Companion Pets for the Elderly

Many of us know the value of having a pet in the house, many of us have experienced the joys of snuggling up beside our furry companions. But have you considered that having a pet could improve the overall health of your elderly loved ones?

Studies have proven that a pet can lower the elderly’s blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart disease.

The American Heart Association says, “...people with pets and cardiovascular disease were more likely to survive heart attacks.” In addition to this, having a dog or cat as a companion can also fight against depression, stress, and strengthen the will to live while offering security and companionship.

This is not saying that you should go out and buy your mom a cat for the sole purpose of improving her health. Having a pet in the house can be an enormous joy to its owners but a pet can also be a burden. Dogs and cats have needs of their own and require a lot of time and dedication. Pets are not right for everyone or for every situation, so how do you know if a pet would be a good fit for your loved ones? How do you know if your Nana and Spot would benefit from each other?

Ultimately, only you or your loved one can make that decision, but it’s not a decision to take lightly. There are a lot of things to consider; we will go over a few of them briefly.

  • Is your loved one physically capable of caring for a pet?

Depending on the kind of pet you are looking into, pets are a lot of physical work. Dogs need to go outside, they need to run and burn off energy. Cats need a litter box, which needs to be cleaned frequently. They both need human attention so they don’t get bored and become destructive. They need to be fed daily. Any animal you get is going to require work. Consider if this is too much for your loved one’s situation. There are ways that you can make these things easier. Can you set up a dog yard so the dog and just be let out and back in when she’s done? Is there a family care-taker that can take part in the animal’s care? Ask your homecare company if this is part of the services they offer.

  • Which pet is best?

A cat is less work than a dog, but some people prefer their loyalty and behavior over a cat’s demeanor. If you’re looking into a dog, it may be best to search into which dogs will need less exercise or typically have less energy (such as Spaniels, Hounds, or Bulldogs.) For both cat and dogs you have to take their fur into consideration. A long haired dog or cat will require more frequent grooming of the pet and vacuuming of the house. The choice is also not limited to cats and dogs. Birds, for instance, make excellent companions. Reptiles and rodents are other options to think on.

  • Are there allergies to take into account?

Allergies do not rule out purchasing a pet, they only limit your options. There are both dogs and cats who are bred to be specifically hypoallergenic. A plus side of these non-shedding animals is that they won’t get fur all over your carpet; however, they do often require more attention to grooming. If it’s a fur allergy, then a bird or lizard is also a possibility. 

  •  What age pet should you get?

My suggestion to you is to go to your local shelter and select a pet that is fully adult and in need of a loving home. A puppy or kitten is so tempting because they are absolutely adorable, but they are going to have so much more energy than an adult. A dog does not “Grow out” of its puppy behavior for about three years. Kittens mature sooner and will start calming down from 1 to 2 years. Any young pet will also need to be housebroke. Whether this is training them to use a litter box or teaching them to go outside, house training is a lot of work. Do either you or your loved one have the time or energy for that?

  •  What if the pet outlives their owner?

This is a sad thing to have to think about, but it’s the reality of owning pets as an elderly person. You need to know if there’s someone who is willing to take the pet if this should happen. Many pets have been known to pass away from depression not long after their owner has passed on. They grow just as attached to us as we do to them and they will not understand what has happened. They will need a loving home to go to.

  •  Can the pet assist a specific disability?

Guide dogs and service pets are animals that are trained to aid people with certain disabilities or health problems (either mental or physical). Guide dogs are specifically trained to help blind people to get around, but pets can be trained for other specifics as well. Dogs and cats can both be trained to detect low blood sugar and seizers. And dogs can be trained to perform simple tasks around the house such as turning the lights on and off, fetching the mail, retrieving the phone, etc. In addition, Most any dog will act as a guardian to their house, trained or not. If your dad is living alone and wheelchair bound, this can bring a great feeling of comfort and security.

These are only a few of the points that need to be weighed when trying to make this decision. Pets are a lot of work, but they are also a tremendous blessing. Having a pet to take care of, to talk to, to teach basic tricks, and to protect them if need be, can be invaluable to the seniors under your care. Discuss this with your family and loved ones. A companion pet may not be a good fit for you but it could potentially improve your loved one’s quality of life. It is certainly something to think on.