As we age, our needs and abilities change, and this can affect the types of pets we choose to bring into our homes. Those big boisterous dog breeds we loved when we were younger can be too much to handle as we age.
The good news is, if you’re a dog lover, you don’t have to go without the companionship of a furry friend – you just may need to downsize a bit.
For older adults, a small dog breed can be an ideal companion that offers affection, loyalty, and joy without being too demanding or challenging to care for. Small dogs are also easier to handle, making them a popular choice for seniors who may have limited mobility or strength.
In this article, we will delve into the 9 best small dog breeds for seniors, including their characteristics, pros and cons, and why they make great pets for seniors.
Whether you are a senior or retiree looking for a new furry companion or a caregiver seeking a pet for a loved one, this article will provide helpful insights and guidance on choosing the perfect small dog breed for an older person.
The Best Dog Breeds for Seniors and Retirees
Owning a dog can have enormous benefits for people of all ages, particularly those in their golden years. Companionship, reduced stress, and increased levels of physical activity are just a few.
Not all dogs are suitable for all people, though, so it is important to choose the right dog breed for your lifestyle and circumstances.
So, in no particular order, here are the best breeds for older adults. When scrolling through these suggestions, keep in mind the amount of grooming you’ll be comfortable with, the amount of exercise required, and the size of these small breeds.
1. Shih Tzu
A Shih Tzu makes a great companion for senior citizens and people of all ages. In fact, that’s what they were originally bred to be – canine companions! They are small and playful, make great lap dogs, and have a relaxed and calm temperament. This dog is friendly with strangers and good with small children.
- Height: 9-10.5 inches
- Weight: 9-16 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 10-18 years
Shih Tzu Exercise Needs:
Shih Tzus don’t need much exercise and are perfectly happy to play with you indoors. The American Kennel Club recommends up to an hour a day of exercise, and as they are small, it is best to break this up into shorter walks.
Shih Tzu Grooming Needs:
A Shih Tzu is a low-shedding dog with a long, double coat that requires regular brushing. 2-3 times a week is suitable for long hair, but for a Shih Tzu with shorter trimmed hair, once a week should be sufficient.
Shih Tzu Health:
This breed generally has good health but can be prone to certain health issues such as respiratory problems, hip dysplasia, and dental problems. A Shih Tzu is considered a senior dog at around 9-10 years of age but can live up to 16 years.
2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is one of the most famous spaniel breeds and is one of the best small dogs for older adults, as they were bred for companionship. The King Charles Spaniel is happy to sit on your lap and enjoy your company. Overall, they are relatively low-maintenance dogs, although they do tend to shed!
- Height: 12-13 inches
- Weight: 13-18 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 12-15 years
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Exercise Needs:
Despite their smaller size, the King Charles Spaniel does need quite a bit of exercise. Up to an hour a day is a good rule of thumb, although this can be broken into multiple sessions.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Grooming:
The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel has long hair which tangles easily, so it will need brushing at least 4-5 times a week.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Health:
It is important to make sure your dog has careful health screening. They can develop heart problems, ear problems, or eye problems. Teeth issues can also be a problem for King Charles Spaniels because of the size and shape of their muzzle.
3. Pembroke Welsh Corgi
These dogs are best known for their association with the late Queen of England, Elizabeth II, who owned more than 30 Corgis during her 70-year reign. She described them as “friendly, loyal, and intelligent”, and they are indeed that and more. Corgis are playful and adaptable and get on well with people.
- Height: 10-12 inches
- Weight: Up to 30 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 12-13 years
Corgi Exercise Needs:
A Corgi is quite a high-energy dog and needs daily walks and plenty of activity to keep them healthy and stimulate their minds. They would make a good match for an older person who is fit and enjoys daily exercise.
Corgi Grooming Needs:
Corgis have a short, double coat, and because they shed quite a bit, they do need regular grooming to counteract the shedding.
The Corgi is typically a healthy breed but can develop eye disorders and hip dysplasia, among other health issues. The average lifespan of a Corgi is 12-15 years.
4. Bichon Frise
The Bichon Frise is an affectionate dog who will shower everyone with unconditional love! They make good family members, good companions for senior citizens, and get on well with other dogs and small children.
- Height: 9.5-11.5 inches
- Weight: 12-18 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 14-15 years
Bichon Frise Exercise Requirements:
30 minutes of daily exercise is ideal for the Bichon Frise. Frequent walks and play sessions at home or in the garden are important.
Bichon Frise Grooming Needs:
As they have a long coat that is curly and gets matted easily, they need daily brushing.
Bichon Frise Health:
The Bichon Frise is generally a healthy dog with a good average lifespan of 12-15 years if looked after properly. Watch for health issues like infections, dental and eye problems, and hip dysplasia, particularly as your dog ages.
5. Lhasa Apso
The Lhasa Apso is an ancient breed from Tibet, that was originally bred as a guard dog! They are loyal and fun-loving and would be a good match for an older person looking for a canine companion. This type of dog is naturally independent and mischievous and needs a firm owner as they like to do their own thing!
- Height: 10-11 inches
- Weight: 12-18 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 12-15 years
Lhasa Apso Exercise Needs:
Lhasa Apso’s are athletic and intelligent dogs, so need a lot of exercise to maintain a healthy weight and playtime to keep them engaged. 2 x 20-minute walks per day are ideal, and they love to be out and about.
Lhasa Apso Grooming:
The Lhasa Apso has a long lavish coat, but with surprisingly low shedding for a long hair dog. It will need regular brushing, though, at least every second day. A bath every 1-2 weeks should be sufficient for good hygiene. A shorter “puppy cut” requires less maintenance, but they still needs regular brushing.
Lhasa Apso Health:
They are a sturdy breed with overall good health and an average lifespan of 12-14 years, with some living into their late teens. Older dogs may experience some of the more common issues, such as eye problems, skin conditions, and heart disease.
6. Cocker Spaniel
Cocker Spaniels make some of the best pets and are great for all ages, old and young. They are affectionate, gentle, and easy-going in personality, but probably not the best option if you want a watchdog!
- Height: 13.5-15.5 inches
- Weight: 20-30 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 10-14 years
Cocker Spaniel Exercise Needs:
Spaniels are an active dog breed and should get at least 1 hour of walking exercise per day, which can be broken into shorter walks. This is important for mental stimulation and physical health.
Cocker Spaniel Grooming:
The Cocker Spaniel requires a lot of grooming as their hair tangles easily. Daily combing with a dog-friendly metal comb is necessary to prevent matted hair. Luckily, they are not the worst shedders.
Cocker Spaniel Health:
Cocker Spaniels are particularly susceptible to eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma. They can also get hip and knee defects, although these are not common.
7. Miniature Schnauzer
A Miniature Schnauzer is a great option for an older adult looking for a small-size dog. They are intelligent, friendly, and eager to please, but they can be feisty too!
- Height: 12-14 inches
- Weight: 11-20 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 12-15 years
Miniature Schnauzer Grooming Needs:
A Schnauzer’s wiry coat will need regular brushing (at least a few times a week) and a trip to the groomer for a haircut every 6-8 weeks.
Miniature Schnauzer Exercise Requirements:
Miniature Schnauzers are strong and sturdy dogs that need regular exercise. They need at least 60 minutes of walking daily, but this can be broken down into 2-4 shorter walks and some playtime.
Miniature Schnauzer Health:
Issues can include diabetes, epilepsy, and allergies, and Schnauzers are prone to forming bladder stones. However, they are generally healthy and can live for 12-15 years.
8. Scottish Terrier
There are 31 official types of terriers! One terrier that is popular as a pet for older adults is the Scottish Terrier. Scottish Terriers, often called “Scotties,” are small and lively dogs that exhibit an independent and feisty personality. With a loyal and loving temperament, they make great companions.
- Height: 10 inches
- Weight: 18-22 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 12 years
Scottish Terrier Grooming Needs:
One of their distinctive features is their wiry coat, which requires grooming to maintain its characteristic appearance. This is one of the few dogs where you can get away with a little less brushing, as once or twice a week should be enough. As their coat grows continuously, they will need a trim every 4-6 weeks.
Scottish Terrier Exercise Requirements:
They don’t require a lot of exercise, but Scotties benefit from a daily walk and some playtime to stay healthy.
Scottish Terrier Health:
Scotties are prone to certain health issues, such as skin allergies and Von Willebrand disease, but with proper care, they can live a long and happy life with an average lifespan of 12-15 years.
9. West Highland White Terrier
West Highland White Terriers, also known as “Westies,” are friendly and energetic dogs that make excellent family pets. They can be independent and a little stubborn, which makes them harder to train, but it’s worth the effort!
West Highland Terrier Stats
- Height: 10-11 inches
- Weight: 15-20 pounds
- Life Expectancy: 13-15 years
West Highland Terrier Exercise Requirements:
These dogs have plenty of energy and require regular exercise to stay fit, including daily walks and playtime in a fenced yard or garden. They love walks, and exercise should be for up to an hour a day.
West Highland Terrier Grooming:
Their distinctive white coat is beautiful but requires daily combing to keep it clean and free of tangles. A Westie’s wiry coat should be hand stripped every 4-6 weeks. This is a grooming technique that involves the groomer using their fingers or a stripping knife to pluck out dead hairs. This encourages new growth and helps to maintain the color and texture of the dog’s coat.
West Highland Terrier Health:
Although generally healthy, Westies can be susceptible to skin issues and allergies.
Why should seniors choose a small breed?
While there always exceptions to the rule, small dog breeds are often considered more suitable for older people for several reasons:
Small breeds are easier to handle
Small dogs are lightweight and easy to pick up, making them easier to handle for seniors who may have limited mobility or strength. A bigger, excitable dog that is prone to jumping up could cause an older person to lose balance or fall.
Small breeds are also easier to travel with, especially if you plan to travel by air.
Lower exercise needs
A smaller dog usually requires less exercise than larger dogs, making them a good choice for seniors who may not be able to take their dogs for long walks or engage in vigorous playtime.
If daily walking is right up your alley, these breeds will make sure you’re getting out and about.
Border collies are one example of a popular dog with high energy levels that might not be a good choice as they need plenty of exercise.
Less space needed
Smaller dogs don’t require as much space as large dog breeds, making them more suitable for seniors who live in smaller homes or apartment dwellers. Some apartments and assisted living facilities have a weight limit on pets, which would exclude larger breeds.
For example, golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers can make wonderful companions for people of all ages, but they need plenty of space both indoors and outdoors.
Cheaper food costs
Small dogs generally eat less food than large dogs, making them more affordable to feed and care for.
Other factors to consider when choosing a dog
Some seniors may prefer a dog with a calm and gentle temperament that makes a good companion. Other retirees may appreciate a bit more spunk in a furry friend.
All dogs require some grooming, but some need more than others. Seniors may prefer a dog with lower grooming needs, or they will need to be able to afford professional grooming.
Dogs that shed a lot need regular brushing, and this can add to the amount of vacuuming that needs to be done around the house.
Seniors may want to consider a breed that is generally healthy and doesn’t have significant health concerns or high medical costs. Regular visits to the vet can run into thousands of dollars without pet insurance.
For example, the French Bulldog has a lovely temperament and make great companions, but problems such as Brachycephalic Syndrome (difficulty breathing because of their facial shape) are extremely common in this breed.
A breed that is easy to train and has good manners may be more suitable for an older person. Rather than buying a puppy, it might be better to consider a dog that has already been trained.
Anyone buying a dog should consider a breed that is compatible with their lifestyle, health, finances, and living situation. While there are always exceptions to the rule, stay away from the worst dog breeds for seniors and retirees unless you are extremely active and have lots of experience training dogs.
Consider adopting an adult dog
Shelters are full of excellent adult dogs that need a good home. It’s also easier to tell if the personality and temperament of an older dog will be a good match since they’ve already matured to adulthood.
Adult dogs that have been surrendered through no fault of their own often make the best companions. Checking your local animal shelter or rescue organization is a great option.