Guest Post by Jennifer McGregor
A furry friend can provide incredible companionship, especially for empty nesters or widow(er)s. Studies have shown that pets help with depression, can help battle the side effects of dementia, and of course give their owners a sense of responsibility and purpose. Although it’s often recommended for seniors to consider adopting a pet, special considerations need to be addressed first. After all, some pets can be very demanding and high energy—which can be too much of a responsibility for some seniors.
First, consider what kind of pet and breed matches your needs, goals, personality and lifestyle. There are dog breeds best suited for seniors because of their relatively low energy level, low demands, and size. Seniors may want to steer clear of breeds like Huskies which are very high-energy, large in size, and demand an owner who can accommodate their need to run and play.
Cats are generally less demanding than dogs and easier to manage, but even within cat breeds there’s a wide range of personalities. Some seniors want the most affectionate of lap cats who are happy purring away at your side all day, while other owners-to-be are looking for a more independent breed.
There are also exotic and unique pets such as birds, reptiles and even livestock depending on your ability, available space and housing restrictions. Choose your potential pets based on how well they match you, not on their cuteness or immediate availability. Although shelter pets can often be a great choice and are of course in need of a home, make sure their breed characteristics and medical history have been determined first. Some shelters are better at this than others.
Helping Pets Settle
It can take pets awhile to adjust to any new home. Signs of moving-related stress that are often completely normal include anxiety, “acting out,” vomiting and crying. However, these might also be signs of a more serious condition. Adopting a healthy pet is a must for any owner, but especially seniors who might not have the energy or finances to handle a pet in need of immediate veterinary care.
Empathy is paramount to helping new pets settle. What would you want if you were put in a new home without any information? Safety, security, and an easing into the new environment. Don’t push pets to be social faster than they’re ready. Establish routines including mealtimes, where their meals are, where their litter box is or where they ask to go outside to relieve themselves, and offer a small, safe and comfortable space that’s their very own. For many pets, this might be a crate with the door left open.
Pet-Proof Your Home
If it’s been awhile since you’ve shared your home with a pet, you may have forgotten how curious and adventurous they can be. Keep any potential poisonous items in a high or closed cupboard out of their reach. Research which regular household items might be poisonous to a pet but not to you (such as chocolate for dogs and poinsettias for cats). Remove any breakable items that a pet might accidentally knock over—or knock over on purpose! Cats especially are renowned for taking joy in those crashing sounds.
Most importantly, make sure you research a vet and establish a relationship early. Get your new pet into the habit of seeing the vet not just for stressful appointments, but fun ones, too. Many vets offer free or low-cost “sessions” to check weight or blood pressure, simply to get your pet used to traveling to the vet.
Adopting a pet can be a fantastic addition to your golden years. Plus, there are many older pets that are in need of a home and aren’t considered as “adoptable” as their younger friends. However, older pets are often lower energy, already have good habits established, and may have a long history of good health.
Choose your pet wisely, prep your home, and get yourself ready for introducing a new friend to your environment. Soon enough, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.
Jennifer McGregor is a pre-med student who loves providing reliable health and medical resources.
Image: Ambro, freedigitalphotos.net