Choosing the Right Pet
Choosing the Right Pet for Senior Companionship
Pet ownership is growing in popularity, and seniors and retirees are hardly exempt. People are increasingly turning to pets for companionship in their later years, and the world is responding by catering to pets in senior living communities, RV parks, and home design. However, a companion animal doesn’t have to mean a dog or a cat. Seniors can benefit from caring for a wide range of animals — one company has even come out with robotic dogs and cats designed for seniors! If you’re seeking a pet for your senior years, consider these pros and cons of different companion animals.
Cats are a great choice for a senior who wants a lap animal they can stroke and love on, but that doesn’t demand too much exercise. Seniors with cats can enjoy health benefits like lower heart attack risk, increased functional mobility, and a sense of routine.
It’s important to note that cats, especially young cats and kittens, can pose a health hazard to seniors. A cat scratch could expose a senior with fragile skin to dangerous infections. Seniors should adopt older cats who are less rambunctious and provide plenty of appropriate scratching areas. While it’s not recommended to declaw a cat, an adoptable cat that’s already declawed can be a great option.
Dogs can provide incredible benefits for seniors. Elderly people who own dogs go to the doctor less, maintain a healthier weight, are less depressed, and enjoy increased socialization.
However, dogs require a level of care that not all seniors are able to provide, especially as mobility declines with age. A dog that doesn’t receive enough exercise may exhibit behavioral problems, which could become hazardous if the dog starts to jump or nip at people.
You can mitigate the challenges of dog ownership by adopting an adult dog. Adult and senior dogs are more mellow, require less exercise, and often are already trained. Plus, when you adopt an adult dog it’s easy to pick the right fit for your home. Hiring a dog care service to help with walking, grooming, and vet appointments can make life with a dog more convenient.
Birds are another popular pet option for the elderly. Thanks to their small size, birds are easy for seniors to handle and they don’t require much owner-led exercise. Caring small birds like canaries, finches, and lovebirds can also be very affordable.
However, some birds — particularly parrot species like macaws, conures, cockatiels, and parakeets — can live upwards of 20 years, making them a poor choice for senior owners.
Birds also aren’t low-maintenance, so they’re not a good pet for a senior with no bird care experience. Bird cages need frequent cleanings, and owners must provide mental stimulation and cage-free time to ensure a happy, healthy pet.
Fish are beautiful creatures, and watching them swim around a landscaped habitat can promote calmness and reduce anxiety in seniors. They’re fairly easy to care for on a day-to-day basis, but they do have some specialized needs that may be challenging for people with limited mobility.
Fish tanks must be emptied and cleaned regularly, which can make for some heavy lifting. You also have to maintain specific water temperature and pH for fish to survive. However, since fish are so affordable to purchase and keep, a senior who is interested in keeping fish could easily hire occasional help with maintaining the tank.
Owning a pet can help keep seniors physically and mentally healthy, and provide them with a sense of purpose and routine to guide their days. But pet ownership is also a big responsibility. When you’re thinking about getting a companion animal, take time to consider what kind of pet will best fit your lifestyle, and plan for the logistics of caring for a pet in your senior years.