If your parents don’t already have an four-legged or feathered companion, could a pet boost their physical and emotional health? Seniors with dogs get more exercise than seniors without, and cats can bust stress and raise the moods of seniors and their caregivers alike. Pets can be affectionate, fun, and good for your folks. If your parents are up for the responsibility, here’s how you can help them choose the right fluffy friend.
Are your parents good candidates for pet ownership?
There are a few things to consider before you start checking local pet shelters.
- Do your parents want a pet? Surprise pets are not a good idea.
- Does their home or senior community have room for a pet to exercise and play?
- How well can your parents walk, lift things, and hold onto a leash?
- Do they have any allergies to pet dander or pet litter (like hay for rabbits)?
- Are pet food, flea prevention, vet visits, and pet insurance in their budget? Pet insurance may sound frivolous, but it can drastically reduce the expense of emergency care.
- Could you take in their pet or find it another home if they can’t care for it in the future?
If full-time pet ownership doesn’t look like the best option, maybe your parents would enjoy volunteering at a local animal shelter for a few hours a week instead.
What are the best pets for older adults?
People keep everything from hedgehogs to llamas as pets, but it’s best to keep senior pet choices simple. If your folks are active, a dog can be a great companion–especially an older dog that enjoys a leisurely stroll rather than a puppy that needs near-Olympic levels of daily exercise (and training and cleanup). Many shelters offer discounted adoption fees to seniors who choose older dogs. While you’re meeting and greeting potential pets, look for dogs that are small enough for your parents to handle but not so tiny that they might be a tripping hazard.
If your folks aren’t dog people, cats or domestic rabbits can be good choices for critter companionship with lower maintenance and no barking. Both cats and rabbits require daily care and exercise, of course, but neither are big on walking on a leash and they can thrive indoors with toys and room to run. Cage birds are another entertaining and easy to maintain choice, especially smaller breeds like finches and parakeets.
Dogs, cats, rabbits, and small birds are often welcome in pet-friendly independent living and assisted living communities. They’re also pets that most in-home caregivers are familiar with and comfortable being around. Even if your folks are aging in place now, the ability to move their pet with them or get in-home help with pet care might be an issue later on—another reason to go practical rather than exotic with their pet choice.
For more information on choosing a pet for your parents, contact your local animal shelter. These rescue organizations can help you find a pet that’s already spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped. Ask if they have a Seniors for Seniors adoption program. Take your time, choose wisely, and you can help your parents find a great new friend.