The decision to get a pet for your senior loved one can sometimes be a challenge. They may want and need the companionship, yet not be able to meet the physical demands of the type of pet they’d like to have.
A survey conducted by the National Poll on Healthy Aging, which surveyed 2,051 adults aged 50 to 80, found that more than half of them owned a pet. 88% said their pets helped them enjoy life, and 86% said their pets made them feel loved. Sponsored by the AARP and the University of Michigan, 79% of those surveyed said their pets reduced their stress level.
Pros of Pet Ownership
There are both pros and cons to getting the senior in your life a pet. Let’s take a look at some of the pros:
Pets ease the pain
Just about half of those surveyed that were in fair or poor physical health reported that their pets help take their mind off of their pain. The journal Science reported that pet owners who look into a dog’s eyes for at least five minutes get a boost of the feel-good hormone oxytocin in their brain.
Pets help senior’s mental health
After a person retires, structuring their day becomes very important to reduce the risk of depression setting in. A person’s cognitive abilities can also decline. Staying on top of feeding, grooming, walking, and playing with a pet can help fill empty hours and keep the mind sharp.
Pets make people more sociable
Studies have found that people suffering from social isolation had a 30% greater risk of dying in the next seven years. 65% of seniors surveyed said their animals connected them with other people. Whether it be a walk around the block and running into neighbors or talking with people at a dog park, connecting with other people is a benefit of pet ownership.
Pets keep aging adults active
Medical experts recommend that seniors age 65 and older get at least 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise each week, such as brisk walking. That equates to about 30 minutes per day. A 2017 study in The Gerontologist found that dog walking in adults helped them to be more physically active, as well as lowering BMI and having fewer doctor visits.
Cons of Pet Ownership
Now that we’ve review the pros, let take a look at some of the cons:
Pets can be physically demanding
The extra exercise a senior gets from walking or playing with a pet also carries some risk. There is the possibility of bone fractures from falling for seniors walking dogs, or injury playing with a pet in the home can occur. 6% of seniors surveyed in the National Poll on Healthy Aging reported that their pets caused them to fall or otherwise injure themselves.
Pets can get expensive
Veterinary care, food, collars, toys, and crates can add up for dog and cat owners. Rover.com reports that large canines cost their owners an average of $153 per month. This can put a strain on a fixed income. The Humane Society lists state and national resources for pet owners having trouble affording pet care on their website.
Pets may outlive their owners
Domesticated dogs live an average of 10 to 12 years, and cats live 10 to 14 years. Getting a senior a pet in their later years means that the pet may outlive their owner, or the owner may be hospitalized or need to move to an assisted living facility. Including a pet in an estate plan and naming a caretaker is helpful for both the pet owner and the person that has agreed to assume responsibility for the pet.
Deciding on whether or not to get your senior loved one a pet depends on their physical capabilities, as well as their cognitive condition. Finding the perfect match is key. Perhaps an older dog or cat that is less active is optimal, or getting them a bird or fish may be a better alternative.
We Understand the Importance of Senior Companionship
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