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Have you ever owned a pet? Whether you had a pet goldfish as a kid, owned a dog as a young adult, or have simply admired others’ pets from afar, there’s a good chance that animals have put a smile on your face in the past.
Research is now proving that owning a pet can do wonders for our health. For seniors in particular, the benefits of pet ownership are tremendous. Many older adults experience better physical health and improved emotional well-being as a result of caring for their pet.
What are the benefits of pet ownership? Are there any risks to adopting a pet later in life? What type of pet would suit you and your lifestyle? Here are a few of our top suggestions for prospective pet owners.
The Perks of Pet Ownership
Researchers have determined that having a pet is often good for one’s health. Dog owners, for instance, were shown to have better cardiovascular health and were more likely to engage in heart-healthy behaviors like exercising, eating well, and maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. 64% of pet owners in general agreed that having a pet boosted their levels of physical activity.
A study of adults between the ages of 50 and 80 showed that more than 80% of pet-owning seniors felt that their pets reduced their stress, made them feel loved, and helped them to enjoy life more. The vast majority of seniors with poorer physical health also reported that their pets helped them better cope with their symptoms. Just making eye contact with one’s pet for five minutes or more each day was shown to release oxytocin in the body, reducing pain symptoms in chronic pain patients.
Pet ownership can also add structure to your life. 62% of senior pet owners said that owning a pet helped them stick to a daily routine; nearly 75% of respondents said that their pets gave them a greater sense of purpose in life. After retiring, many seniors find that a lack of routine contributes to feelings of depression and social isolation. Owning a pet can combat this problem! The majority of older pet owners reported that their animals helped them connect with other people, too. Simply put, pets keep us busy and help us connect with others. Maintaining a feeding, grooming, and playing routine with a pet gives our days a sense of structure, and being a pet owner gives us a new sense of identity.
Challenges to Consider
For older people, depending on their health condition, large dogs, for instance, may be too much to handle. Studies have shown that an increasing number of seniors 65 and older have suffered bone fractures as a result of walking their dogs. Those who live in apartments and have limited access to gardens and outdoor spaces may also be more suited to small dogs and cats and should avoid adopting other pets that were raised in an outdoor setting.
Costs must also be considered. The cost of caring for a cat or dog may range from $500-$2,000 a year, not including unexpected veterinary expenses and other non-essential purchases. Smaller pets, like rodents, birds, and fish may be less expensive to care for, but may also require certain expenditures at the start, such as the purchase of a suitable cage or aquarium.
Though it’s not something most of us want to think about, one must also consider the lifespan of a potential pet. Cats, dogs, and some bird species may live for well over a decade. What will you do if you’re sent to a rehabilitation center, have a prolonged hospital stay, or need to move into an assisted-living facility? Take your health into consideration and include any pets in your estate planning. Consider a potential future caretaker for your pet and, if possible, set aside a small trust to cover the animal’s future care.
Though there are challenges to pet ownership, don’t let these factors deter you from considering a pet! Here are a few of our suggestions for suitable pets for seniors.
Dogs for Seniors
If you’re physically active, financially stable, and have access to plenty of outdoor space, dog ownership might be right for you. In general, smaller dogs are a better choice for seniors. Larger dogs are often more expensive to care for, and seniors may be at greater risk for falling while playing with or walking larger canines. If possible, consider adopting a medium-sized or smaller dog from a shelter. These dogs may be mixed-breed “mutts” but will be just as loveable as any pure-bred dog. Breeds that may be well-suited to seniors include spaniels, terriers, beagles, Chihuahuas and dachshunds. Potential dog owners should research dog breeds or talk to shelter staff to determine whether or not a particular type of dog is suited to their lifestyle and personality. Individual animals will also have different personalities. Generally, calmer animals will be more suited to older adults and their lifestyles. If you’re financially able to support a dog and are willing to get out for walks on a daily basis, dog ownership might be the right choice for you.
Cats for Seniors
If your lifestyle is less active, cat ownership may be a good choice for you. Indoor cats make great companions for seniors who are more limited in their mobility. Even active seniors may find that they love the quiet companionship of a feline friend. Short-haired or hairless cats may be easier for seniors to care for than long-haired cats, who must be brushed or groomed on a regular basis, but all cats are generally low-maintenance in comparison to dogs. As with dogs, consider visiting a shelter to adopt a cat, rather than purchasing a pet from a store or breeder. Find a cat whose personality suits yours; a mellow, affectionate adult cat, for instance, might be exactly the companion you’re looking for.
Other Smaller Animals
A number of smaller pets may also be ideal for seniors. Fish like goldfish or betta fish, for instance, can be kept in small bowls or 10 gallon aquariums. Though some tank cleaning and maintenance are required, fish are some of the easiest pets to own. Avoid investing in large aquariums, however; these can be far more difficult to maintain.
If you’re looking for a pocket-sized furry friend, rabbits, mice, hamsters, and other rodents are generally relatively easy to care for. Though you may need to change the bedding in their cages and play with them, these smaller pets are comparatively low-maintenance and require fewer veterinary visits than larger pets.
Smaller reptiles, such as geckos, can also make for great pets. Quiet and easy to care for, geckos do not usually need to be fed on a daily basis. Reptiles like geckos generally eat small insects, which can easily be purchased at pet food stores. If you’re interested in a more unique pet, a small reptile might be a good choice for you.
If none of these pets appeal to you, consider researching other options. If you’d like a pet that you can watch but shouldn’t handle, perhaps a tarantula would suit you. If you want a playful, active pet but can’t manage to walk a dog on a daily basis, perhaps a lively indoor pet like a ferret would suit you. Do your research before considering pet adoption. If you decide that your lifestyle, budget, and personality are compatible with a particular type of pet, get out there and find your future animal friend!
Adopting a pet is a major decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. It is important to honestly assess your lifestyle and physical health before purchasing a pet. Are you able to get out and walk a dog? Do you have someone in your life that could take care of your pet if you were to end up in a hospital or care facility? Consider these questions before committing to pet ownership. There is certainly a pet that is right for you; you simply need to figure out what it is! Go to a shelter and see if you connect with a certain animal. If you do, you just might be able to provide them with their very own “forever home.”