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7 Tips on Having Pets When You’re a Senior

Easy Climber Seniors Living with Pets

Perhaps you’ve recently lost your spouse, and you’re wondering if a pet would help the house seem less empty. Or a previous pet has died, and you aren’t sure whether to get a new one. Maybe you live in a small apartment; is that fair to the pet? And what if you someday need to go into a retirement home, or if you die before the animal does?

Seniors ask themselves these questions every day. But it’s not hard to find the answers – and they are overwhelmingly positive.

“A pet is a friend, true partner, and loyal companion,” says the European Journal of Medical Research. “All too frequently the companionship of a pet is underestimated or belittled, even though pets are often intimate companions for many elderly people. They help them fight off loneliness and solitude and continue their activity. For many elderly people, their animal friend means joy and quality of life.”

“Pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity and help them learn,” writes Barbara Ballinger for Aging Care.

Choosing the right pet means thinking about your lifestyle
Perhaps you’ve recently lost your spouse, and you’re wondering if a pet would help the house seem less empty. Or a previous pet has died, and you aren’t sure whether to get a new one. Maybe you live in a small apartment; is that fair to the pet? And what if you someday need to go into a retirement home, or if you die before the animal does?

Seniors ask themselves these questions every day. But it’s not hard to find the answers – and they are overwhelmingly positive.

“A pet is a friend, true partner, and loyal companion,” says the European Journal of Medical Research. “All too frequently the companionship of a pet is underestimated or belittled, even though pets are often intimate companions for many elderly people. They help them fight off loneliness and solitude and continue their activity. For many elderly people, their animal friend means joy and quality of life.”

“Pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity and help them learn,” writes Barbara Ballinger for Aging Care.

Choosing the right pet means thinking about your lifestyle

It’s smart to consider your lifestyle carefully if you are thinking of getting a pet. A dog or a cat is a responsibility and does bring needs. They need food, water, a place to relieve themselves, exercise and veterinary care. Some pets may have behavior problems; a dog may bark excessively, chew on things or pull on the leash; a cat might use a chair as a scratching post or decide to not take you seriously when you banish him from the table.

The puppies and kittens in the cages at adoption day are always adorable, and you might be tempted to take one home on impulse. But here are some tips on choosing a pet that will increase the odds of a successful human—animal partnership:

  1. First, define your lifestyle. Do you work outside the home, or are you home most of the time? Do you travel a lot, and if so, do you know someone who could care for your pet in your absence? Do you want a pet that can take long walks with you, or one that’s content to sit at the window and watch the world go by? Are you a social person who has lots of visitors or more of an introvert? How big is your home? The answers to questions like these will help you zero in on the right pet for you.
  2. In dogs especially, different breeds have different personalities and different needs. That golden retriever puppy may be cute, but it will grow into a 55- to 75-pound dog. Some breeds are better watchdogs while others are better lapdogs (and that’s not always just a question of size). Some breeds need more exercise while others are content with short, occasional walks. The Dogtime website will let you search dogs by breed and learn about both their physical characteristics and their personality traits.
  3. Does this mean you shouldn’t adopt a mutt? Absolutely not! Mutts make some of the best pets around. But it’s probably better to adopt an older one; with a puppy, you won’t know how big it will get. And if you know a little bit about the basic dog groups, like herding dogs, terriers, hounds, sporting dogs, toy dogs, working dogs and so on, you’ll know that a basset mix is more likely to be mellow than a terrier mix.
  4. Are you more of a cat person? In some ways, choosing a cat is easier because they are happy as indoor-only pets and there isn’t as much of a variance in size. Cats do have distinct personalities, however; one may be standoffish and not enjoy being held while another one believes your lap is the definition of paradise. Cat time can help you differentiate between breeds and their traits.
  5. Long or short hair? This is a question regardless of whether you’re considering a dog or a cat. Long-haired breeds most likely will need more grooming. But don’t make the mistake of thinking short-haired breeds automatically shed less; it’s just that the hairs they leave behind are smaller.
  6. Adopt from a rescue. Most breeds have rescue groups devoted to that breed. Animals that come in are placed with foster families, who then can give great insight into how a particular animal interacts with people, children, other animals and various situations (some dogs might startle at any loud noise, for instance, while others barely notice.) In addition, if a pet doesn’t work out, a rescue group will take the animal back and help you find one that’s a better match.
  7. Make plans in the event that something happens. Many people think they shouldn’t get a pet because of the possibility that they would need to move to assisted living or a retirement home or even the possibility that they might die while the animal is still alive. Thinking it through on the front end will make a difference here. Ask a friend or family member if he or she will take responsibility for the animal should something happen to you, even if it’s just a commitment that they will do the work necessary to find the pet a wonderful new home.

Don’t close the door to pet ownership simply because of your age. A pet can help ease loneliness, encourage you to get exercise, provide protection and make you laugh. And after all, isn’t laughter the best medicine? 

If you are also looking for other ways to make life easier and more enjoyable as you age, consider common improvements, such as stair lifts or home elevators, to your home.