Studies have shown that the companionship of a pet can greatly enhance the quality of life for senior citizens. At Spring Hills assisted living facilities, our caregivers have seen just how much our residents and visitors enjoy our PAW (“Pets Are Welcome”) program and the joy that furry friends bring. If you are a family caregiver for an elderly individual or your loved one has expressed an interest in having a pet, there are a few things to consider to ensure both your loved one and their soon to be beloved friend leads a healthy and happy life together.
How to Choose a Senior-Friendly Pet
Every animal has its own personality and needs, just as humans! These very factors are important to consider when looking for a pet for a senior. After all, compatibility is crucial. A few factors to keep in mind include:
Personality – If your loved one has very low energy levels, an energetic golden retriever that needs a daily walk may not be the best fit. Meanwhile, some breeds have more aggressive personalities, which may make it harder for a senior to relax. Not only do different breeds have different qualities and characteristics, but each individual animal does as well. Make sure you are able to see your loved one and the pet interact in person before committing to taking the pet home.
Age of Animal
- As adorable as little puppies or kittens are, they do require much more care than adult animals. Training and frequent walks through the day may not be ideal for a senior who would just like to relax.
- By the time they are mature, most animals have established their personalities, so it may be easier to assess their disposition and compatibility with your loved one when they are a bit older in age.
- Aging animals may not be as energetic, but if they start getting sick, medications may need to be administered, or incontinence may occur. Unless you will be around to assist, it may be best to choose an animal that is just a few years old, as opposed to a senior age.
Best Types of Animals for Senior Citizens
- Cats clean themselves and use a litter box, which is a benefit to seniors who may not be up to taking a pet outside every day. The best cat breeds for seniors are those with more mellow dispositions, such as Ragdoll and Persians. However, keep in mind that a cat’s claws will require regular trimming, either by the owner or a vet and cats tend to be more upsetting to those with allergies.
- Birds can be responsive and chatty, great for lonely individuals who prefer vibrant companionship. However, for some, this chatter can be annoying. The most common bird pets are canaries, cockatiels, and budgies. However, keep in mind that most will want to fly around, so they should be trained to perch on a finger and return to their cage. Their cage will also require frequent cleaning, something some seniors may not be up for.
- Fish can be beautiful and lovely to watch, as well as easy to care for. However, if your loved one is looking for more interaction in a pet, fish may not be ideal. Additionally, maintaining the cleanliness of their tank and accessories can be significant.
- Dogs tend to be very popular because, apart from the daily walking, playing, and the occasional bath, they are relatively easy to care for and tend to be the most interactive and loving.
Best Dog Breeds for Older Adults
Because there are so many breeds and temperaments, the best dog for an elderly widow who is fit and active may not be the best dog for a senior at the beginning stages of dementia and experiencing some arthritis. Here are the top 3 good companion dog breeds to consider.
- Pugs are small, charming, and very affectionate. They also don’t need a lot of exercise to maintain good health, making them perfect for seniors who may not be able to go out for a walk every day.
- Poodles come in different sizes and are incredibly smart and easy to train. Plus, they have hypo-allergenic fur, which requires some regular grooming.
- Boston Terriers are a nice, manageable size and very friendly. They enjoy curling up with their owners and love spending time with people.
Other Great Companion Dogs for Senior Citizens
Shih Tzus, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers are also popular companion dogs. These dogs are small and don’t require much exercise apart from a daily short walk and a bit of indoor play. They can be great lap dogs but their coats do require grooming and they have a tendency to bark. Another factor to consider may be the health of your loved one. For instance, some dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers, can be trained to detect a potential epilepsy episode or can serve as trained seeing-eye dogs. Speak with your loved one’s doctor if you feel this may a consideration.
Please remember that these are simply rules-of-thumb. Make sure that you and your loved one can interact with any prospective pet before making the final decision. Have any questions? Contact us – we would be happy to share our recommendations!