These pets make the best senior companions

Owning a pet can be one of the most rewarding life experiences. While animals provide a sense of companionship and support to owners of all ages, those in the senior age range can benefit the most from taking care of a furry friend. Pet ownership not only eases feelings of loneliness and distress among seniors, but it also helps aid in cognitive engagement as well.

A recent study shows that long-term pet ownership contributes to a slower cognitive decline among seniors, specifically pet owners of more than five years.

“As stress can negatively affect cognitive function, the potential stress-buffering effects of pet ownership could provide a plausible reason for our findings,” said Tiffany Braley, MD, of the University of Michigan Medical Center, in an article published by the American Academy of Neurology. “A companion animal can also increase physical activity, which could benefit cognitive health.”

What should my older adult consider before getting a pet?

Each animal can vary in maintenance level and costs, depending on several factors such as size, age and breed of the pet. It’s also important to consider what type of animal is best suited for your seniors needs based on the following:

  • Mobility – Does your older adult have a hard time getting around the house or pose a high-fall risk? If so, look into smaller-sized pets that are able to stay in a cage or tank during the day. This won’t require your senior to walk around as frequently or do as much strenuous activity to care for their pet.
  • Income – Analyze your older adult’s finances and determine if the costs for a pet would be feasible. Depending on the type of animal, annual costs for a pet can run anywhere from $450 for a fish to an estimated $9,000 for a dog. Try creating a budget with your older loved one to decide which animal would be most affordable.
  • Allergies – Elderly individuals are at higher risk for having pet allergies due to a weakened immune system, making it more difficult to combat airborne diseases. If your senior has any known allergies, try to accommodate them by looking at animals that are hypo-allergenic or furless, such as fish, reptiles and even hairless cats.
  • Coping skills – Although caring for an animal can promote happiness and good spirits, it can also induce more stress. Evaluate your older adult’s mental health and determine how they would handle traumatic events, such as the death of their pet or the potential risk of having to give up their animal.

Good pets for older adults

Trying to determine which pet to bring home for your senior loved one can be a stressful and tedious process. While this is not a comprehensive list, there are many great animal options to choose from:

  • Dogs – If you’re looking for a high-energy animal to keep you moving in and outside your home, a dog might be perfect for you! They have a life span of an estimated 10-13 years; however, this can vary depending on the size and breed of the dog. According to the American Kennel Club, the size of your dog can factor into lifetime costs as well, ranging from $14,000-15,000 dollars. If you’re interested in adding a dog to your family, consider options like adopting or buying, and research the pros and cons to each.
  • Cats – Compared to dogs, cats are fairly low-maintenance when it comes to training, exercise and neediness. They’re independent animals, as they don’t require as much attention and interaction with their owners. However, like any pet, they need plenty of love and care! Although you don’t have to worry about taking your cat out to use the bathroom, it’s important to keep up with cleaning their litter box on a daily basis. Your senior should expect to pay $8,000-11,000 in lifetime fees, costing a little bit less than a dog.
  • Fish – If you’re seeking a pet that’s low-maintenance and won’t break the bank, a fish is a great option for your older adult. Consider what kind of fish your senior wants to bring home, as some do well in a group while others are meant to be kept alone. Fish can live three to five years on average, so it’s important to choose a spacious tank for them to thrive. They can cost an estimated $85 to $450 per year, as most of the expenses come from miscellaneous items, such as tanks, filter supplies and cleaning materials.
  • Rodents – Different animals such as hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs fall under the rodent species, and they make wonderful pets as well! These kinds of animals can be kept in a secure cage that’s large enough for them to roam around in. Make sure you buy proper bedding supplies for your rodent and keep their water and food bowl clean regularly. While it may seem like such a small animal, you may be surprised how dirty they can be. Anticipate spending an average $500 in annual costs for your pet rodent.
  • Reptiles – If your older adult is interested in owning a more exotic pet, consider looking into reptiles! These can include lizards, snakes and even turtles. While they require less attention and daily care, they need an owner with special skills to be cared for. This includes specific diet and environment requirements that can be a lot for owners to learn at first. Out of all the pets listed above, reptiles can live the longest, reaching a 60-year life span.

Luckily, if your senior loved one is unable to own a pet, there are plenty of alternatives! Talk with your older adult and review the following options:

  • Visit or volunteer at a local animal shelter.
  • Research robotic pets for seniors.
  • Take a trip to a nearby petting zoo with your older adult.
  • Encourage your senior loved one to apply part-time at a pet store.
  • Organize visits with your older adult and a close friend or family member who owns a pet.

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