When you have a senior loved one, you want to explore every option that might keep them happy and healthy. Many seniors turn to pets to help bolster their emotional and physical health. While pets, especially dogs, have a well-documented benefit on people’s physical and emotional health, there are serious considerations that should be made before jumping into pet ownership. It’s important to look at the pros and cons of pet ownership before deciding to add an animal to your loved one’s family.
Pros: Emotional Benefits for Seniors
Any pet that seniors like and will bond with will likely boost their emotional health and help them stave off challenges such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and more. Research has found that a pet will make seniors feel more emotionally stable, provide a sense of purpose, combat loneliness and counteract the issues that stem from loneliness.
Pros: Physical Benefits for Seniors
Any pet that will require a senior to move more can benefit their health. While dogs are the clearest example of this, many other pets also need care that requires movement. Even getting up to clean a hamster’s cage is an additional activity that can help seniors stay more physically active.
Pros: Service Dogs Can Offer Other Benefits
Service dogs are a great option for seniors because they provide more specific benefits that are tailored to a senior’s needs. Dogs can be trained to aid those with physical disabilities by picking up items or guiding the senior. Dogs can also be trained to remind seniors of their medications, respond to danger such as fire alarms, and perform other useful tasks.
Con: The Health of the Pet
Pets need care just as seniors do. If your senior cannot care for the pet, you may end up having to do that work yourself. Even cats require a weekly litter change, daily food and water, as well as brushing and trips to the vet. While this isn’t a lot of work to many, for some seniors this is just too much. You can try to offset this risk by choosing very low-maintenance pets.
Con: Training and Energy Levels
In general, if you are to get a dog for a senior, it’s best to get an older dog. Puppies require training and have energy levels that may be too much for some seniors. Having an untrained or poorly trained dog can be a safety risk. Adopt a well-mannered dog from a shelter or choose a trained dog from a breeder to minimize these risks.
Con: Potential Risks
There are other potential risks that you might be introducing to the home when you get a pet. Some animals play with toys that can be tripping hazards. Large dogs may pull on walks or knock a frail person over. If an owner can’t keep up with trimming a cat’s nails, they can get scratched. Of course, adopting a pet can add financial strain to a senior’s life.
Ultimately, be realistic about what kind of work you and your loved one can put into the pet, now and years into the future. Have a discussion with family and be prepared to take the pet if circumstances change. If you feel that your loved one would benefit from a pet but worry it may be too much, consider connecting with local organizations that offer pet therapy or have volunteer opportunities that include interaction with and care of animals. These are great alternatives that can bring pets into a senior’s life safely and with minimal responsibility.