Our pets are best friends for life. Whether they’re a 15-week old puppy or a 15-year-old senior animal, we want them to be happy, healthy and living to the fullest throughout their lifespan.
The same goes for our elderly human companions! Pets are a fantastic way to get elderly people moving and give them a sense of purpose in life. After all, no matter what else is happening, the dog (or cat, or rabbit, or fish) needs to be fed!
Different pets have different needs when it comes to their food, exercise, veterinary care, and socialization. It’s important to choose carefully when buying a pet or an emotional support animal for an elderly loved one, as you don’t want it to become a physical, financial or emotional burden for them.
Here are some of the pros and cons for each type of pet, so you can decide which might be the best choice for the senior loved one in your life.
The benefits of pet ownership or an emotional support animal
Numerous studies have shown that owning a pet (whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, fish, or reptile) can have many physical and mental health benefits, no matter what age you are.
Some of these may include:
- Lower blood pressure
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduced stress
- Weight management
- Less risk of depression or loneliness
- Better chance of long-term survival after a heart attack
Hit the pavement with a pooch
For seniors, having the company of a canine friend is a great way to encourage movement, activity, and generally getting outdoors. Studies have shown that walking a dog regularly (even if it’s just short 15 minute walks around the block) can lead a lower body mass index, which in turn contributes to overall health and helps to prevent conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.
Dog ownership also has social benefits, including connecting with other pet lovers who cross their paths during walks. This social interaction lowers the chance of seniors experiencing depression and anxiety.
With all the benefits of dog ownership, it’s a lot of work, and it’s important to carefully consider whether your loved one will be able to take care of a dog properly. Are they able to regularly walk the dog? Can they bend down to give the dog food? Are they able to take the dog to the vet in case of an emergency? Who will look after the dog if they have to go to the hospital?
Take all these things into consideration and if the fit is right, a dog could be your elderly loved one’s new best friend.
Curl up with a kitty
Cats are an ideal pet for seniors who may not be able to contribute the time and energy that’s necessary to take care of a dog. Cats provide affection (when they want to of course!) and lots of entertainment with their funny kitty quirks.
They’re also a good option for seniors as they provide a sense of responsibility and routine to the day. Your elderly loved one can enjoy creating a routine with their new feline friend that involves feeding, grooming, cleaning, and playing.
Again, be sure to check first that your loved one is able (and wants) to take care of a cat. For example, if your loved one has a cat allergy, it may not be the best idea, even though there are some great hypoallergenic cat wipes available these days to combat the sneezing sessions.
Have a frank conversation about the responsibilities and work it will involve before adopting one. Surprise pets as gifts are never a good idea.
Chat with a bird
Birds are another pet option for seniors. Adding wonderful bright colors and chatty bird noise to your loved one’s surroundings, a flying friend is sure to brighten their day and keep them entertained.
Keep in mind though that like with all pets, birds require both a financial and time investment. Their cage will need to be cleaned out regularly and it’s great for them to have some time ‘free-flying’ around the house. Again, make sure your elderly family member is able to provide a bird with the love, care, and attention it needs – and that they’ve got space in their home big enough for a birdcage!
Set up a fish tank
A fish is probably the pet that requires the least amount of commitment and hard work, making them a great choice for seniors looking for a bit of life and color in their homes. Fish are perfect for seniors as you’ll be able to do the hard work and set up the fish tank for your loved one yourself, and then they’ll just get to sit back and enjoy their new underwater friends.
Be sure to set up a clear and consistent routine and check back that your loved one is following the necessary fish tank maintenance. You don’t want to be visiting and seeing a green, moldy tank (or worse, a floating fish).
Animal pals for seniors
Pets bring so much joy to our lives, and there’s no reason why seniors shouldn’t also enjoy the love, affection, and happiness that comes with owning an animal. Just make sure that your loved one is aware of the responsibilities and effort that come with owning a pet, and they’re sure to enjoy their new companion.
If you love animals and the excitement they bring to people of all ages, why not consider becoming a veterinary assistant? You’ll spend your days helping animals stay healthy so they can live long, happy lives with their owners. Although it’s definitely hard work, becoming a veterinary assistant could be the perfect career path for the animal lover in you!