8 Unique Emotional Support Animals for Seniors

8 Unique Emotional Support Animals for Seniors

According to the ADA National Network, emotional support animals “provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities.”1

That means that while an emotional support animal might not be able to alert a hard-of-hearing owner to a doorbell or fire alarm, they offer up many other benefits, including reducing the feeling of isolation that many elderly adults face. According to the CDC, loneliness and social isolation are strongly linked to serious physical ailments. Loneliness increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, increases the risk of premature death from all causes, and can even lead to a 50% greater risk of developing dementia.2 An emotional support animal can ease some of that loneliness and help you lead a longer life.

That’s not to say that some emotional support animals can’t do things like learn to use a medical alert device if they are physically capable of doing so. But many emotional support animals certainly can’t do that because… well, some of them don’t even have paws!

An emotional support animal can be any creature that brings comfort to those who need it. That can take the form of some unusual pet choices. Here are some unusual – yet delightful – emotional support animals for the elderly.

1.      Sweet Little Birds

These feathered friends are small, even tiny, and don’t need much more than fresh food, water, and an appropriate cage. They are delightful to watch and quite often provide joyous songs that brighten the day. Some birds require more attention; for instance, while a group of little finches are perfectly happy being left alone and simply observed, some parakeets and larger birds, like African gray parrots, thrive on attention and can be taught to speak.

2.      Hamsters, Mice, and Rats

These tiny little creatures can make excellent pets. While mice and hamsters can sometimes become attached to their owners, it’s best to expect them to simply be a fun and soothing animal to watch as they go about their daily business in their cages.

Rats, however, are a different story. Domesticated rats can be incredibly affectionate and become deeply attached to their owners. In fact, they really do require companionship, so it’s best to get two of them to ensure they don’t get lonely if you can’t be around to give them attention all the time. And contrary to popular belief, domesticated rats rarely bite. Like many other animals, they tend to lash out only when provoked.

3.      Curious Ferrets

Ferrets aren’t for everyone – they are relatively high maintenance. They need regular cleaning and their bedding and play areas must be kept fresh and clean to avoid the “ferret smell” that comes from the oils in their skin. They also need lots of attention, not just for playtime, but to simply keep them out of trouble! Ferrets have a curiosity that can keep you on your toes; some liken ferrets to small children who get into anything and everything as they explore the world.

So if you have limited mobility, a ferret might not be the best choice for you. But if you want to stay physically active and keep your mind sharp, put a ferret on your list of potential emotional support animals for the elderly.

4.      Bouncy Rabbits

Just like dogs and cats, rabbits have very distinct personalities. Some are very outgoing and curious about everything while others are calm or even nervous and prefer to stick close to one person. Rabbits can easily be trained to use a little pen, and because of that many owners allow their rabbits to roam freely around their home. An affectionate rabbit can make a cuddly sidekick who doesn’t need much care beyond food, water, and lots of love.

5.      Friends with Fins

If you happen to be allergic to animals with fur, you might love animals that live underwater. Watching fish move slowly through their habitat, exploring new additions, eating tiny flakes of food or even worms and other occasional treats can be a soothing experience. The fish you choose can be easy to care for, such as the common goldfish you find at the county fair, or they can be much more expensive and take more care, such as saltwater varieties of exotic fish.

Either way, though they don’t need much in the way of day-to-day maintenance, they do occasionally need a good cleaning of their tanks. Bear that in mind if you choose this otherwise easy emotional support animal.

6.      Potbellied Pigs

Many people are surprised when they learn that pigs are not only highly intelligent but also very affectionate. Because of this, a tiny potbellied pig can make a great emotional support animal. In fact, they are so social, loving, and outgoing that they are a top choice for therapy programs in hospitals. They can be taught to easily walk on a leash so you can get out and get some fresh air with this lovely little oinker right by your side.

They do require more care than some of the other animals on this list. They need regular grooming, care for their hooves and tusks (if they have them), and regular cleaning of their eyes and ears. They also need lots of attention to stay happy!

7.      Various Reptiles

These animals aren’t for everyone, but if you love a low-maintenance creature that’s fun to watch and might even be affectionate with you, a bearded dragon is a good idea. These delightful reptiles are surprisingly social and interactive, which means you can get into a routine of playing with them. They can easily live 15 years or more, so keep that in mind when you choose one as a pet.

Turtles and snakes are two other reptiles that can be very fun to handle. There are many varieties of turtles, from the common box turtle that can live happily in your backyard to the red-eared slider, which needs a tank and plenty of water to stay healthy and happy. Snakes bring vivid color and more than a little excitement to the table, especially at feeding time. However, keep in mind that these reptiles don’t often become attached to their humans – they’re much better to watch than to cuddle with!

8.      Guinea Pigs

If you can’t have a capybara, a guinea pig is a good alternative. These smaller rodents are much lower maintenance than capybaras but require more attention than hamsters or mice. Since they are such social animals, having more than one is always a good idea. They can become attached to their owners and might like to cuddle, but many just prefer to be in the vicinity.

Are you ready for an emotional support animal? Some of these animals can accompany you when you travel if you have the right documentation. Mental Health America offers information you need to know on how to register an emotional support animal.

Stay Safe and Healthy for your Emotional Support Animal

No matter what emotional support animal you choose, it’s important to stay as healthy as you can for them. Some of the animals on this list, as well as dogs and cats, can become quite attached to you and very dependent upon you for their physical well-being. The last thing you want is to suffer a medical emergency, accident, or fall and not be able to reach out for help – when you have a pet, you aren’t the only one in danger is something bad happens.

Medical alert technology, especial senior alert systems with fall detection, can give you the peace of mind that you won’t be waiting for hours for help to arrive. You can simply press the button on the life-saving alert system and reach out for help from a monitoring center, which is staffed by trained professionals around the clock. The friendly voice on the line will talk with you, assess the situation, and send the appropriate help your way. The sooner you get the appropriate care, the sooner you can get back to the pets that depend on you.