We all know the benefits of owning a pet. They include:
- lower blood pressure
- fewer doctor visits
- reduced risk of depression
- decreased loneliness
- increased activity
- better self-care
- greater mental acuity
- reduced stress
Research shows that that most of these benefits hold true whether you have a dog, cat, fish or even a snake or tarantula.
Before You Get a Pet
Many people only look at the positive aspects of owning a pet. They imagine walking their well-behaved dog as admiring people beg to pet it. However, there are several issues seniors should examine before deciding to become a pet parent.
- Can you afford to take care of the pet? If you have a cat, for example, you must buy food, a litter box, litter, a scoop, spaying or neutering, vaccinations, a carrying crate, leash and/or collar, and health care at the very minimum. The American Society for the Protection of Animals estimates the average yearly cost of owning a cat is $705 if you include pet insurance. The estimate for a dog is $695. The average yearly cost does not include initial expenses, such as spaying or neutering or purchase of a litter box and carrying crate. And it does not include the cost of flea and tick protection, heartworm protection, and licensing.
- Are you physically able to take care of the pet? Dogs require feeding, walking, picking up waste, and, frequently, grooming. Cats require feeding and taking care of their litter box. Rabbits require food and cage cleaning. Even fish require regular feeding and cleaning of their tank. There’s also the question: If you get a dog, will you be able to control it?
- Are you mentally able to take care of the pet? If you forget to take your medication or to water your plants, you aren’t likely to be a good pet owner.
- Do you have time to take care of the pet? If you vacation or travel frequently, who will take care of the pet? What happens if you become ill? Is your family or a friend willing to help you?
- Are you able to train the pet adequately? If you let your cat run free to defecate in neighbors’ yards or your dog bites someone, you are responsible.
- Is your pet permitted where you live? Many municipalities do not permit residents to keep chickens and horses. Some also have breed-specific legislation for dog breeds they believe are dangerous.
Of course, not all pets demand the same level of care. Feed your pet snake a mouse, and it may curl up for a week. However, the pets that provide the maximum physical and mental benefits—dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, birds, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, horses—all require more care than fish or snakes.
Which Pet Should You Get?
Once you decide to get a pet, which is the best for you? First, let’s look at a few reasons seniors may not want certain pets.
Pets You Shouldn’t Get
If you’re at risk of tripping and falling, neither dogs nor cats are a good choice. Tripping over pets was cited as the reason for an estimated 86,629 visits by pet owners to the emergency room in a 5-year period from 2001 to 2006, according to a report by LiveScience. These statistics included incidents where the animal pushed or pulled their owner over while walking.
If you have fragile skin or a compromised immune system, cats are not a good idea. Even if you love your cat, you may get scratched while trying to treat an injury or give medication, and cat scratches can be toxic. In fact, if you have a compromised immune system, fish might be the best bet, because diseases contracted by other mammals can sometimes spread to humans.
Which Type of Pet Meets Your Needs and Vice Versa?
If you want to become more active, a dog or horse may be your best choice. You must exercise both, which means you’ll get exercise, too. Walking your well-trained dog will also help you socialize with other people and pet owners. If your new dog is not trained, consider getting it professionally trained. Far too many people have been injured when their dogs pushed or pulled them over.
If you want a low-maintenance pet that reciprocates affection, a cat is a good choice. Other low-maintenance pets, such as hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, and mice, must be kept in a cage, but a cat is able to roam free.
If you have allergy problems, a fish may provide you with stress relief without the irritation caused by animals with fur. Birds may also be an option.
If the house is too quiet, consider a small bird, such as a finch or cockatiel.
Young vs. Older Pets
Generally, a younger pet is not a good choice for older adults. Most of them must be trained, and, frequently, younger pets need more exercise than a senior can provide.
If you are the type of person who wants to rescue the world, an aged pet may fill your heart with joy. Just remember they won’t live as long and are more likely to develop medical issues. Aged cats and dogs are also more likely to become incontinent.
Borrow a Pet
To ensure you and your new pet will be compatible, try to get to know them before you make the big decision.
Volunteering at your local humane society or animal shelter is one way to get to know the animals there. Shelters now offer rabbits, fish, reptiles, farm-type animals, and horses for adoption in addition to the usual cats and dogs.
Humane societies and other adoption centers that have sticks-and-bricks locations sometimes offer try-it programs. Once you’re approved, you can take the animal for a day or longer to determine if you suit each other. Most reputable adoption centers will let you return a pet if it turns out to not be suitable.
We Love Pets
At Sugar Hill Retirement Center, we love your pets. Many of our residents enjoy walking their dogs around the cottages, although they rarely get far before someone asks to pet them. Give us a call at (603) 569-8485 or contact us online to find out more about how pet-friendly we are.