Author: Robert J. Weiner, VMD, ABVP
Pets provide us with companionship, affection and a sense of purpose. They are social ice breakers and lessen isolation. Senior pet owners are likely to have lower blood pressure, be more mobile and recover from medical challenges more rapidly. These attributes of pet ownership are always valuable, but aging raises some particular considerations.
Species of pet: Cats are relatively low maintenance pets compared to dogs that generally need to be walked. Birds, depending on the species, can be great companions for the elderly.
Safety: Is the owner at risk for tripping or falling over a pet?
Size of the pet: The size, breed and temperament of a dog should be appropriate for the health, strength, mobility and capacity (physical and cognitive) of the owner.
Environment: Where does the senior live? At home in a house with a yard? In an apartment? In assisted living or nursing facility? Does the facility allow pets, and if so, is additional rent or security deposit required? Is the pet calm and quiet so as not to be a nuisance to other residents in the facility?
Financial: Can the senior afford the cost of food, grooming and veterinary care? Pet Health Insurance is a great idea to protect against unexpected veterinary medical expenses. Does the senior have appropriate home owner’s or liability insurance if a neighbor suffers an injury related to the pet?
Public Health: If the senior is in an assisted living or nursing environment, zoonotic diseases (those transmissible to people from animals) need to be screened for (some internal parasites, external parasites like fleas and sarcoptic mange, Psittacosis in birds). Rabies vaccinations must be current and maintained. Care must be taken to avoid bites and scratches. Dogs needed to be properly trained and exercised to protect neighbors from injury.
Outside support: How independent is the senior? If needed, is there a designated person or people who can help with shopping, exercising, grooming, feeding, cleaning, transportation or medication if necessary? If the owner becomes ill, suffers an injury or is hospitalized who will to care for the pet? If the worst happens who will adopt the pet?
For additional information regarding pets and seniors go to Assisted Living for Seniors with Pets: