Though they cannot speak a word, pets can communicate volumes to their owners. They express unconditional loyalty, love, curiosity, and energy. They demonstrate every emotion from bounding joy to a tranquil and confident acceptance of us without judgment. Perhaps that is why 85 million families own a pet, according to the National Pet Owners Survey for 2017-2018.
So how can a senior adult who still lives in his or her home (called aging in place) continue to care for a pet? Keeping your pet while you age in place can be difficult if you’ve started to experience some of the physical and cognitive challenges of growing older.
Benefits of Having Pets
The physical, mental, and emotional benefits that seniors receive as a result of interactions with their pets have been well documented. Studies show that seniors who care for pets take better care of themselves, with the following results:
- Lower risk of heart disease
- A more positive outlook on life
- A sense of purpose and being needed
- Lower stress and anxiety levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Companionship that relieves feelings of isolation
Hazards of Keeping a Pet While You Age in Place
Despite the benefits, keeping a pet can create some hazards for senior adults. For example, seniors should watch for the following safety hazards related to owning a pet:
- Tripping over pets, pet toys, food, and water bowls
- Slipping in pet waste or on spills
- Being knocked over by an exuberant pet
- Falling while walking a pet or chasing it if it scrambles away
Safety for Seniors and Pets
Seniors and family caregivers can take many steps to make the home safer for senior adults with pets. Promptly clean up spills from food and water bowls. Clear walkways, hallways, and stairs of pet toys. Have a specific place where leashes and other pet equipment is kept out of the way. In addition, the senior will be less likely to fall if they sit down before bending over for their pet.
If a senior adult wants a new pet, the relationship will generally last longer and be safer by selecting a pet that has the proper size, temperament, and care needs that fit the home and the abilities of the senior. Choosing the right companion has a big impact on keeping your pet as you age.
For example, cats are generally calmer than dogs. Many love to cuddle, and they are small and light enough to lift if needed. While cats are more into peace and quiet, dogs are more energetic, like to be walked, and can provide a sense of security. Small dogs can be a tripping hazard and large dogs may be too strong to handle safely. An older dog may be a great option for a senior to adopt as they usually enjoy fitting their activity level to the people around them.
What if You Need Help?
There are many options to assist senior adults facing decreasing strength, mobility, and stamina. Financial assistance may also be available to seniors to help with pet costs.
The Humane Society of the United States provides a list of national and state resources to help people afford their pets.
The list includes:
- Veterinary care options for pet owners who cannot afford the full expense of veterinary care. Assistance may include pet food, supplementation, spay/neuter assistance, and medication payment relief.
- Traveling veterinarians make house calls, and mobile vet clinics are increasing in number.
- Some organizations assist with finding suitable pets for senior adults.
- Talk to your veterinarian about services and options in your community. If you are receiving home health assistance, your caregivers may know of other resources in your community as well. Dog walkers can be found online, or you may want to ask a friend or neighbor about their experience with a dog walker before selecting one.
- Grocery and pet stores now deliver pet supplies to the home.
- Routine and emergency pet services are available, including boarding and kennel services, and can be found online.
Bethesda has a number of programs in place to support seniors aging in place. Contact us to learn more about our Care Management and Senior Support Solutions programs, and how they can help you or your senior loved one remain independent for longer.