Older Adults and Pet Ownership – Pros and Cons

Pet ownership is a contentious issue among those in the elder care field. While the companionship of an animal has been anecdotally attributed to improved cognitive and physical health among older adults, few repeatable studies have presented specific, compelling evidence of this link.

Instead, the breadth of educated opinions for and against pet ownership among older adults seems to suggest that answering this question comes down to the specific needs and abilities of a would-be pet owner. Rather than litigating these diverse opinions, below are some of the most common benefits and drawbacks of pet ownership for older adults, as well as special considerations older adults should take when considering a pet. Family with dog

Common arguments for pet ownership

Most arguments for pet ownership revolve around companionship, mental/physical engagement, and sense of purpose.

  • Pets offer companionship and can help ward off feelings of depression or isolation. Beyond being a friendly face, caring for a pet requires social engagement for the owner, like trips to the pet shop, vet visits, and walks.
  • The daily routine required to care for a pet can provide structure in an otherwise free-form day, encouraging an older pet owner to stay mentally active and aware of their companion’s wellbeing, as well as physically active by playing with their pet.
  • Caring for a pet can provide an older adult with motivation to stay healthy so they can continue providing for their pet.

Common arguments against pet ownership

Most arguments against pet ownership tend to highlight contingencies where an older adult forgoes their own wellbeing to care for a pet, or becomes unable to provide consistent care due to illness, injury, or cognitive decline.

  • Pets can become expensive, particularly if they themselves have significant illnesses or injuries.
  • Caring for a pet can be physically demanding, and can pose a significant fall hazard for those with already heightened chances of a fall injury due to limited mobility, balance, or sight.
  • Some older adults have expressed concerns about seeking medical help for their own injuries or illnesses due to concerns that hospitalization may prevent them from caring for a pet.

Splitting the difference

Ultimately, deciding whether a pet can benefit an older adult boils down to each person’s capabilities and goals. However, while not everyone is cut out for pet ownership, all pet owners, particularly those 65 and older, can greatly benefit from planning their pet’s care before adopting.

  1. Financial planning is a key element of considering pet ownership, particularly for those with limited funds or fixed incomes. Consider not only the cost of food, but also medical visits, toys, and care assistance should the need arise.

While pet insurance will increase the month-to-month expense of keeping a pet, the benefits of these programs far outweigh the possible                     medical bills associated with a pet.

  1. Consider the physical needs of pet ownership – not only if you can reasonably accomplish the daily tasks like feeding, grooming, walking, and playing with a pet now, but whether you can realistically continue these activities long-term.
  2. If you have never had a pet before, or have not had one in some time, consider testing the experience by fostering a pet or pets to ensure you can keep pace.

Another possible way to address this concern is by aiming to adopt a senior pet. Older pets may have increased chances of medical                   complications, however they will often demand less energy from their owners and may better match your overall temperament.

  1. Plan for contingencies like unexpected hospital stays or sudden injuries by speaking with friends, neighbors, or family members who can step in and assist with pet care should you become unable to do so yourself. Having a designated person who can care for your pet in case of an emergency can provide you with peace of mind, and make it easier for you to seek medical care for yourself should you fall ill.
  2. Assess your living situation and consider what type of pet you can realistically support. If you live in an already cramped apartment, a small bird cage or aquarium might be more viable than a dog or cat.

Also be sure to consider future plans for moving. If you plan to age in place, then you are unlikely to run into issues, however if you plan to enter an assisted living facility or similar residence, understand that bringing a pet may impact your options.

  1. Consider assistance in managing the more physically demanding elements of pet ownership. Having a neighbor, friend, or family member who can assist in dog walking or at-home pet care can be critical to ensuring your pet’s needs are met on days when you may not be feeling your best.

Alternatively, many home health care agencies can provide assistance with pet care tasks if those needs are discussed with a service coordinator, giving a home care client the peace of mind that their companion is well taken care of even when physical limitations prevent them from providing care every day..

While scientific research has yet to definitively answer whether pet ownership presents mental or physical benefits or hazards, it’s undeniable that they can bring joy and companionship to those in need. Fortunately, with proper planning and consideration, there is no reason why an older adult cannot provide a safe, loving home for their animal companion.

SelectCare has helped New Yorkers live happier, healthier lives in their long-time homes for nearly 40 years, including assisting our clients in caring for their furry friends.

To learn more about SelectCare and how we help, read our client testimonials, request a free in-home care guide, or call SelectCare today!