The Best Pets for Seniors

pets for seniors

There’s little doubt that pets are a great idea for seniors. We explored the many benefits of pet ownership in a previous blog post, such as the fact that those with pets tend to live longer and recover quicker from stroke or other medical emergencies. Pets tend to help their owners with stress relief, pain relief, and a sense of purpose.

Seniors who have a pet are happy to have a companion, as 36% of them report feeling less lonely and 21% of them report having fewer doctor visits as compared to those who don’t own a pet[1]. Having a pet, especially a dog or cat, has been shown to keep individuals more active, as well as help seniors keep up a faster walking pace, better endurance, and mobility that is greater than that of those who don’t have a pet[2]. In addition to the physical advantages, there are mental health advantages as well, including lower levels of depression and anxiety, fewer anxious episodes for those with dementia, greater self-esteem, and less fear[3].

And that’s the tip of the iceberg. The avalanche of studies that tout the advantages of having a pet makes it clear that if a senior can take care of a pet, it’s a wonderful idea to get one.

But what sort of pet is best for you? A small dog or cat might seem like the immediate answer, as they both provide excellent companionship and provide the opportunity for exercise and a sense of purpose. And while these are often excellent options for pets, there are others that work better for those who have limited mobility, difficulty caring for a more rambunctious animal, or even financial difficulties that make it tough to give a pet the veterinary care it requires.

Keep in mind that when you do choose to have a pet in your home, you will want to ensure that both you and your pet stay as safe as possible. Since many animals can wind up underfoot, especially dogs and cats, it’s important to wear a medical alert pendant at all times. This technology summons help fast whenever you need it. Though that’s important all the time, it’s doubly important when you have a pet who depends on you for their own safety and security.

Let’s look at the options of the best pets for the elderly and why one of these might suit you best.

Man’s Best Friend?

From little “purse dogs” that can literally fit in your pocketbook to bigger dogs that can sit in your lap, dogs really can be man’s (and woman’s) best friend. This is especially true for those who need a good reason to get out of the house and exercise. For those who live on their own, while a larger dog might seem to make sense from a security standpoint, remember that the dog must be walked, exercised, fed, bathed, groomed, and otherwise cared for – and that can be tough for some seniors. And even if someone is strong enough to handle a big dog right now, they might not be in the future.

Choosing a smaller, less active dog might be ideal. The Spruce Pets recommends a Maltese, Shih Tzu, or Cavalier King Charles spaniel as good options for elderly dog owners. These dogs are quite small – usually no more than 15 pounds when they are fully grown – and are quite gentle-natured. All these dogs need regular grooming, though the spaniel needs it less than the others. All three are lovable lap dogs that make excellent companions.  The Bichon Frise is a dog that is easy to house train and absolutely loves kids, so if you have grandchildren, this dog might be a wonderful companion[4].

Do you want a breed that’s a bit more energetic? Consider the West Highland Terrier, which is quite happy living in a smaller space but enjoys a long daily walk. Remember, when you are out walking your dog, always have medical alert technology on hand. You want to be certain that if you suffer a fall or other emergency while you are out with your pet, you can get help at the touch of a button.

Cats of All Breeds

Did you know that there are at least 73 breeds of cats? That’s according to The International Cat Association, which is the world’s largest registry of pedigreed cats. But of course, those breeds often mix to create beautiful hybrid cats, so who knows how many breeds there really are? What we do know is that many breeds have certain traits that make them perfect for senior owners.

For instance, Siamese cats are well-known for being quite “talkative.” Get them going and they will meow, chirp, and otherwise “talk” to you nonstop. It can even seem as though you’re carrying on a real conversation and that the cat understands every word[5]. On the other end of the spectrum, Persian cats are known for being very quiet[6]. They can move around the house like a big fluffy cloud and you’ll never hear a peep out of them (unless you’re late with their food, of course). Whether you want a loud companion or a quiet one will help you narrow down your cat breed options.

Another thing to consider is that some cats have very short hair, while others have long, luxurious manes. Though all cats will shed (except for the unique hairless breeds), taking care of a cat with longer hair can mean more time spent grooming. Some cats don’t like to be groomed, so it’s important to make sure you have the proper tools to keep their fur healthy and the proper help to ensure your home stays as fur-free as possible.

Bouncy Rabbits

Though rabbits might not seem to be a typical senior pet, you might be surprised by how affectionate they can be and how easy it is to care for them. They are very quiet animals who can be trained to use a litter box just like a cat would. Rabbits can live in the house with you, either allowed to have the run of the place or confined to a comfortable indoor rabbit hutch. They can also live outside in a hutch that protects them from possible predators.

Just as with cats, some rabbits will have an aloof personality while others will make the ideal lap pet. Some breeds, like the long-haired Angora, will become quite attached to their owners and enjoy cuddling up whenever they get the chance. Just keep in mind that the luxurious fur will have to be groomed!

Just as with cats or dogs, rabbits could potentially become a trip hazard if they are allowed to wander the house. A medical alert system with fall detection can help ensure that if you do happen to trip over your pet, you can get help at a moment’s notice. The fall sensors can automatically alert emergency response agents that a fall has occurred, so they know you need help – and they will contact you if you can’t press the button. It’s a great way to stay safe and keep peace of mind.

Beautiful Fish

Watching fish swim in a tank can be quite relaxing. A small tank of no more than ten gallons is ideal for ease of changing the water and cleaning the tank, though there are much smaller ones available that sit right on a nightstand or smaller table. If you’re going for a very small home aquarium, consider a Beta fish, which is colorful, lively, and fun to watch. But since they will fight each other to the death, make sure there’s just one Beta in the tank!

If you want more fish, any small freshwater fish will work just fine. Set up the lighting, décor in the tank, and filters, and then simply enjoy the fish. Caring for them is quite easy and requires feeding on a regular schedule, but even this can be simplified with automatic feeders.

Fluttering Birds

Do you enjoy listening to gentle birdsong? Why not have that enjoyment right in the comfort of your home? Birds can be wonderful companions who don’t need much in the way of maintenance and care. They are beautiful to watch, especially those who like to put on a bit of a show, such as the popular parakeets. Also known as budgies, these pretty birds are best in pairs, and their interactions will make you smile. They will eventually become attached to you and get excited when you come near. Some budgies will be delighted if you open their cage and allow them to fly around the house, and they will usually go right back to their cage for bedtime.

Yes, they can be a bit noisy, but they rarely bite and tend to need less maintenance than other types of birds might. These are an especially great pet for someone who is restricted to their bed and needs some sort of entertainment and companionship. Expect these lovely feathered friends to live between seven and 10 years.

Lizards or Turtles

Reptiles can make excellent pets, especially since they are so low maintenance. Leopard geckos, for instance, are very small and don’t make noise. They simply need good lighting and occasional feeding. They live for a long time as well, so that’s a big bonus. A 20-gallon tank should be more than enough space for one of them.

Turtles are much the same way. They can be fun to watch, though they usually need a larger space than something like a gecko would. They also need occasional feeding and cleaning of their enclosure. Turtles can get attached to their owners and love to see them approach[7]. They can even become quite playful when their owner picks them up and handles them. According to the Turtle Conservation Society, turtles can live for 10 – 80 years, and larger species of turtles can live much longer than that, so it’s safe to say your companion might be with you well into the golden years.

The Realities of Adopting a Pet

When you’re thinking about adopting a pet, consider a shelter pet. These pets are in need of a good home and often make some of the best companions. This might be especially true of an older pet, which is less energetic and lower maintenance than a younger one. An older pet can also provide a renewed sense of purpose for some seniors who would enjoy taking care of a pet that needs them. As an added bonus, you can often adopt a senior pet at a good discount.

Some shelters and fostering services match older animals with older adults. It’s important to spend some time with the animal before you choose to take it home, as you want to be sure that the animal is suitable in temperament. If possible, take the animal home with you for a few nights to see how well the adjustment goes and test out pet ownership.

Once you have a pet at home, it’s time to settle in and make sure everyone is happy. One way to do this is through regular veterinary visits to make sure the pet is healthy, offering the best possible food and water, and getting all their vaccinations on time. The good news is that many veterinary clinics and even pet stores might provide good discounts for seniors to help them take care of their pets. Here are a few good programs to consider if you need a little help:

·         Meals on Wheels. Yes, this wonderful organization provides food for seniors to ensure they get enough nutrition, but did you know that many of the local programs provide food for animals as well? In 2019, about 50% of local programs were delivering pet services, mostly food. Check the Senior Pet Support page to see if the program is available in your area.

·         Cheap vaccinations. Vaccination clinics often take place at farm supply stores like Tractor Supply or H-E-B. You can get vaccinations for free or very low cost, as well as get some examinations, such as those for heartworm or Lyme disease. Vaccine events are also often available at local animal shelters, public schools, or veterinary offices.

·         Discounted flea and tick control. If you have a local university with a veterinary program, you can often get significant discounts on a variety of things, such as flea and tick control products, basic exams, and even vaccinations. That’s because the students there need experience and the school often provides clinics that provide help for seniors as well as training for students. It’s the ideal win-win.

·         Ask for a payment plan. If your pet suffers some sort of medical emergency, talk to your veterinarian about a potential payment plan. Many are more than happy to work out something with you to keep your animals and your bank account healthy.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health, happiness, and safety!