What to Know About Pets for Seniors
If you’re thinking about getting a pet for your older parents or loved ones, you aren’t alone. Getting a dog for your parents or another type of pet is a good way for them to feel less isolated. Pet ownership can have significant mental and health benefits, but you have to make sure you’re putting thought into the decision.
A pet isn’t right for every senior, and some pets and even some particular types of dog breeds are better than others for older people.
The following are some of the key things to know about getting a pet if you are a senior or you want to get one for an older loved one.
Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that any pet can have health benefits, but especially dogs. Researchers looked at just under 1,800 people between the ages of 25 and 64 who had healthy hearts. Nearly half of those people owned a dog. The people with dogs were more likely to have a heart-healthy lifestyle.
For example, they were more likely to eat well, have healthy blood sugar levels, and exercise.
They had better cardiovascular health overall, which researchers theorized might be because of the additional exercise and physical activity they got from taking care of a dog.
In the National Poll on Healthy Aging, which surveyed over 2,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 80 recently, more than half said they owned a pet. Of those surveyed, 88% said their pets helped them enjoy their life. Around 86% said their pets made them feel loved.
The poll also found that 79% of senior pet owners felt their pets reduced their stress levels.
Around 40% of seniors say they experience loneliness on a regular basis, so adopting pets or even having more access to therapy animals could improve their well-being.
Other benefits of pet ownership, especially for seniors, include:
- Pets can help alleviate pain. It could be due to the fact that animals can take your mind off the pain, especially if you’re someone who has chronic pain. If you look into your dog’s eyes for at least five minutes a day, it can also boost your levels of oxytocin, according to a report in the Science journal. Oxytocin is a feel-good hormone.
- When you have a pet, it can help you stick to a routine. After you retire and your lifestyle changes with aging, having structure in your day is especially important. When you don’t have a structure and routine, it raises your risk of depression. If you don’t have meaningful tasks, like taking care of a pet, your cognitive function can also decline.
- When people are lonely, it significantly increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. When you have a pet, along with reduced isolation from the animal, you’re also more likely to be social, especially if you have a dog that requires you to get out and about for walks and visits to dog parks where other people are.
What About the Downsides of Pets?
While pet ownership can seem like a great option for older people, it’s also important that you understand the possible downsides.
One of the big ones is that pets are physically demanding. While this can be good in terms of structure and exercise, not every older person is physically capable of taking care of a pet and especially one like a dog that requires regular walks.
Seniors are at greater risk of bone fractures related to walking their dogs, and if a senior has low mobility, they might want to opt for something like a cat or bird rather than a dog.
Pets also get expensive. If your older relative is on a fixed income, they might not be able to afford the costs of things like food, grooming, and vet care.
Certain types of animals can carry diseases and bacteria that could be especially dangerous to older people with compromised immune systems. For example, around 40% of cats have a bacteria that causes cat scratch disease. This can lead to fever and swollen lymph nodes.
There’s also a sad possibility that a pet could outlive its owner, so the family of an older person might be responsible for taking care of the pet if that happens.
How to Choose the Right Dog for a Senior
If you’re a senior and you want a dog, or you’re thinking about getting one for your loved one, certain breeds tend to work better than others.
Some of the things to consider when choosing a dog for the senior years include:
- Its size. A lot of older people downsize and live in smaller homes, so a smaller dog can be a good fit for this type of setting. A small dog is also better suited if a senior has reduced strength or balance and mobility issues. A dog that’s too big could pull and put an older person at risk of being seriously hurt.
- Puppies are very time-consuming and exhausting, so an older dog might be a better fit for an older person. Older dogs tend to be calmer and better behaved than a puppy and may not require any training.
- An older person may benefit from having a lower-energy dog breed. Higher-energy breeds include terriers, pit bulls, and Great Danes, so you probably don’t want those for your older loved one. A dog with a lot of energy that isn’t getting its needs met may become frustrated and start destroying things or showing behavior problems.
- Some dogs require essentially no grooming, while others require a lot. A short-haired breed is typically going to require less grooming.
Finally, if an older person frequently travels, you need to think about things like boarding or choosing a dog breed that other members of the family or perhaps a neighbor would be willing to watch while they’re away. Larger dogs tend to be more expensive to board, and people are less often to watch them in their homes.
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