Pets and Aging

Person with dog in cafe

What to consider as an older adult when it comes to animal care

Adding a pet to your household can be a wonderful way to combat the loneliness and isolation that sometimes comes with aging. Pets can fill voids in our lives, giving us joy, companionship and purpose. And while there are many benefits to having a pet, adopting an animal is an important decision with different factors to consider at any age but especially as you get older.

How Pets Are Good For Your Health

As we age, our level of interaction with friends and families can dwindle with the relocation or death of loved ones. Bringing a pet into your life can help counter the sadness, anxiety and depression that can come with being alone. Studies have shown that having a pet can help reduce your blood pressure and ease stress. Pets also help fulfill the basic human need for touch and give people happiness through their playfulness and mere presence.

Having an animal gives you a purpose in life beyond just yourself and can help you get your mind off your own issues. The care of a pet that comes, for instance, with taking a dog for a walk or playing with a cat, also can help you stay more physically active. Pet owners – particularly those with dogs they take on walks – often have more social interaction with others, another part of animal companionship that helps counter loneliness.

Considerations for Older Pet Parents

Many pets – particularly dogs and cats – have average lifespans of a decade or more. Adopting pets is for life – both theirs and yours. As you yourself age, it’s important to think about the impact that potential changes in your health situation and living arrangement may have on an animal companion. If you are adopting as an older adult, make a plan for who will take your animal friend should you no longer be able to give your pet the care he or she needs.

Prior to adoption, assess whether or not you are currently able to take care of a pet’s needs, such as its feeding, grooming, litter box care and other clean-up, daily walks and visits to the veterinarian. Consider enlisting the help of a friend, loved one or someone you can hire to help at times with the care of your animal. Think, too, about the financial cost of having a pet. As pets themselves become elderly, there is the potential that they will have increased healthcare needs which may come with higher costs.

When choosing a pet, give consideration to the size and age of the animal. For example, a large, high-energy puppy has the potential to tug hard on a leash and possibly pull you down. A small kitten can easily get underfoot and couldcause you to trip. Younger animals are typically more energetic and require more training and attention. Consider adopting an older, senior pet who may have a calmer demeanor and be more settled into a routine. And while dogs and cats are popular pets, consider other animals such as birds, fish, rabbits and reptiles which can offer companionship, too.

Keep in mind that just because friends and family members may think you need a pet in your life, the decision – and responsibilities that come with having a pet – are yours alone. Prior to considering animal adoption, take time to carefully evaluate if having an animal to care for fits with your lifestyle, your physical abilities and your living arrangement.