Often, a pet is the only reason an older adult feels he or she has to get up in the morning. – From “The Power of Pet Therapy” (Linda Feagler, Senior Living, Avenues, April 1995)
For a senior, a pet can be an anchor in a world that very often feels alienating. With uncertain days, struggles, and lack of social contact, each day can become difficult. A pet can turn dark periods into brighter times. Even the frustrations a pet can bring has the ability to turn a day into a happy one when silly antics are just too funny to get mad at.
Animals and Health
Animals are unconditionally loving. Dogs have been long called ‘man’s best friend’. Even cats, who have been long thought to be aloof and moody, were found in a study by Oregon State University to prefer human companionship over the allure of things they find delightful; even food! Animals lower blood pressure, ease stress, and provide support when a senior needs it the most. Pet owners have also been shown to have higher survival rates than those without pets by giving an older adult purpose and friendship.
But before you go off to buy a pet for your aging family member, there are many things to consider. Choosing the right pet is paramount. Animals have different temperaments — dogs differ from cats, cats from birds, and so on.
Dogs are phenomenal companions. They are loyal friends that improve activity and socialization for their human family members. But not every dog has a personality that fits an elderly person’s situation or countenance. Certain breeds are more active than others and require more walks, attention, and room. It is good to keep in mind the size and type of dog when looking for the right furry friend for your loved one.
Older dogs of calmer breeds can age with their senior friend and tend to be a bit more relaxed. They are often already trained and are easier for an older person to handle and take care of. On top of that, many elderly dogs in the shelters need a home and a loving heart. However, if your family member is still active, taking the dog for walks can be enjoyable. It can make a senior feel good to know they saved a life and gained a valuable companion. If you need further assistance on choosing a pet with a complimentary temperament, animal shelters can help you and your loved one find the right pet.
Cats are low maintenance pets that work well for an adult who maybe cannot walk a dog every day, but could still use the companionship of an often independent furry friend. Cats tend to take care of themselves, but trips to the vet, groomer, and store can bring an elderly adult much needed socialization, without the burden of having to be overly mobile.
There is a reason why the internet is filled with cat pictures and videos. Cats do what cats do – and often make us laugh. These furry superstars love attention and adoration, and individuality is their forte. Keep in mind though, if your family opts for young kittens, they can be a handful. An older cat is usually much calmer and more likely to provide gentle companionship for your loved one. If you are getting your cat at the shelter, talk to them to see which cats have the proper temperament for your situation.
Another low maintenance pet that is a joy to watch and listen to is a bird. Certain birds work exceptionally well with the elderly. The friendly Parakeet is one of these such birds. Part of the parrot species, these active and intelligent birds enjoy human interaction. They do require some out-of-cage time, so they do well with owners who are able to get around fairly easily. Parakeets can be taught words and will mimic things they hear from their human friend. Birds can bring serenity with a song, entertainment with their enjoyable tricks, and can keep an elderly person’s mind active by just being themselves.
Things to consider
Other things to keep in mind are the costs of grooming, the vet, food, and the ability your loved one has to go to and from these places. Another thing to consider are the community guidelines if your family member lives in an assisted living environment. Also, if the senior for any reason loses the ability to care for their pet, they will have to find possible rehoming. If this is the case, veterinarians can usually help offer options for rehoming. Neighbors looking for a pet can also be an excellent choice, as this allows the senior to keep in contact with their beloved animal if family members can’t take it.
Getting a pet for a senior can be a life saver for both the animal and the human companion. If your loved one is suffering from loneliness, a pet may just bring a smile back to their face.