Things to consider when choosing a pet for an older person
Age shouldn’t be a barrier to having a pet, although it is of course important to choose the right sort of pet to suit the individual’s lifestyle.
Being a pet owner can bring huge benefits, not least of which is that having a pet provides a focus and purpose for owners, giving them something to care for, that will depend on them and can provide much needed companionship. Furthermore, studies have shown that owning a pet can have many health benefits e.g. being a dog owner encourages regular exercise and the soothing repetitive action of stroking a pet is known to help reduce high blood pressure.
From the pets point of view a retired person is often in an excellent position to give them more time and attention, free from the constraints of a busy working lifestyle.
Things to consider when choosing a dog or cat for an older person
For those who enjoy holidays or trips away from home, then a pet should not be ruled out, but the potential financial costs involved in pet care whilst away, should be taken into account. As an alternative to pet sitting, kennels and catteries, why not consider pet-friendly holiday accommodation where pets go with you, so removing the stress and worry of leaving the pet behind. There are many books and websites offering these types of holidays.
The thought of becoming ill or going into hospital should not inhibit an elderly person from getting a pet. They can put a plan in place in advance, with family or friends or perhaps consider the best animal charities such as Dogs Trust and The Cinnamon Trust which have schemes that will step in, if the worst happens to one of their members.
Where you live…
Research the different species and breeds, as the pet that is suitable for a country cottage, may not be right for an urban apartment. Many landlords and sheltered houses have specific rules about pets, so find out what they are, before making a decision.
What’s the best species of pet?
Looking after a small dog costs about the same as a cat, whereas ‘small furries’ such as hamsters and rabbits will cost much less to feed and care for.
Smaller, less demanding breeds of dog may well be happy with a couple of sedate daily walks, but a large dog or a working breed is likely to need large amounts of exercise and long walks daily.
Cats do not need walking. They will exercise themselves with access to the outside. If outside access is not possible e.g. accommodation is in a flat, a cat can still lead a happy indoor life if provided with plenty of attention and stimulation/exercise with toys. An indoor cat will also need a litter tray requiring daily cleaning.
The size of the pet
It may be easier and more practical to choose a smaller breed dog so it’s more manageable to lift, whether that’s into the car when going for a walk or in the case of an emergency which can be an issue, especially if living alone. It is worth bearing in mind that even a boisterous small dog will be easier to manage on a walk than a calmer but larger breed.
Instead of a traditional collar, consider using a ‘Halti’ head collar which will give the pet owner more control whilst walking their pet and prevent the owner being pulled along or at worst, over.
Whilst there is little difference in the lifetime cost of owning a dog or a cat, it is worth bearing in mind that the costs involved with a smaller dog are less than those associated with a larger one. These costs include feeding, worming, veterinary care and boarding.
Cats are a good choice for a smaller pet and are generally much easier to transport and handle.
The age of the pet
The average dog may live 10-15 year (slightly longer for a cat).
When choosing a dog or cat most people opt for a puppy or kitten, perhaps preferring to train them from scratch to fit in with their particular lifestyle. A puppy or kitten may require lots of work getting them toilet trained and puppies may need specific training classes whilst they are young.
It is worth considering that the rescue centres are full of older dogs and cats looking for homes.
With these older animals there are pros and cons. On the positive side they are toilet trained, may have basic training skills and are generally calmer and readier to fit into a household. This reduces the need for extensive training and avoids the excitable phase that puppies go through which may involve chewing, biting and jumping up.
An older pet may also have reduced initial financial costs, as neutering, initial vaccinations and worming should already have been performed. However this needs to be balanced with the fact that an older pet may have or develop health issues which can carry an emotional and financial burden.
Image credit: Shelia Sund
Picking the best breed
Different breeds or types of dog and cat can have very different personalities and time spent in research before choosing, will not be time wasted. Some breeds can be calmer and more family orientated especially important if grandchildren visit. Others will be ‘higher energy’, requiring much more exercise and mental stimulation.
Research into the particular type or breed of dog or cat you are looking at will help with this decision. Many reputable rescue centres have a variety of types and breeds of pets looking for homes with the expertise to be able to help you make the correct choice.
The majority of pets will shed hair and long haired breeds of dogs and cats will tend to shed more (on your furniture, carpets, clothing). Most dogs and cats will benefit greatly from being brushed daily and it’s a good way to bond with your pet as well. If the work involved in dealing with shed hair is a concern, then there are breeds where this is minimal e.g. poodles. Again its worth doing research before making a choice on breed type.
Exercise is important
Consider an elderly owner’s strength, fitness and finally their spare time available for walks. It’s best they are honest with themselves about how much regular daily exercise they are willing to commit to, before making any decisions.
All in all, choosing the correct pet to suit each individual is an important but also exciting decision which can bring rewards and benefits to both owner and pet for years to come!