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Who Benefits Most — Pet or Pet Owner? It Could Be a Tie!

March 27, 2023

If you’ve ever had a pet, then you know the absolute joy a furry, feathered or scaly friend can add to your life. If you haven’t had the pleasure, now may be the time to see what you’ve been missing!

Back in October 2018, more than half of adults ages 50 to 80 reported having a pet, according to a National Poll on Healthy Aging survey conducted by the University of Michigan. Of that group, 68% had dogs, 48% had cats and 16% had some other type of small pet, such as a bird. More than half had multiple pets.

Those numbers are likely higher now — an estimated 1 in 10 seniors adopted a pet during the pandemic.

Plenty of research shows older adults benefit in many ways by having a pet in their lives, and of course the pets benefit, too!

Pets Are Good for Our Emotional, Mental and Physical Health

Along with their innate ability to make us smile, pets provide us with many other rewards — some of which can be especially beneficial for seniors. Studies have shown pets can help older adults by:

  • Reducing stress
  • Increasing physical activity (particularly for those with a dog)
  • Providing more opportunities to socialize (also particularly for those with a dog)
  • Adding a sense of purpose
  • Creating more need for a routine
  • Lowering blood pressure and cholesterol (good for cardiac health!)
  • Preventing loneliness
  • Decreasing the risk of depression and anxiety
  • Distracting from physical and emotional symptoms, including pain
  • Potentially slowing cognitive decline

As you can see, there are many good reasons to open your home and your heart to a dog, cat or other new member of the family.

What Are the Best Pets for Seniors?

Caring for a pet takes time, effort and commitment. Despite all of the positive reasons for owning a pet, it’s not for everyone. Some people simply don’t want to share their home with an animal, while others may not want to be tied down by the responsibility of pet ownership.

After weighing the pros and cons, if you decide to explore your options, there are other considerations to bear in mind.  

  • What is your level of activity and mobility? Some people think the best dogs for older people are small dogs, but certain breeds (such as Jack Russell terriers) are known for being extremely active even after they’re well into their adulthood. Puppies and kittens are little bundles of energy that can get into mischief if they don’t get enough attention (and puppies require training to prevent bad behavior). Plus, a dog will require walks multiple times a day, as well as regular grooming. If mobility is a concern for you, maybe a friend or family member can pitch in. Otherwise, a cat may be a better choice.
  • What kind of living environment can you provide? Having a large dog in a small apartment may not be fair to the dog. Most dogs need to be able to get out and run on a regular basis. Is there an outside area where a dog can “take care of business”? Do you frequently have guests or other visitors, including people who provide assistance? A shy or nervous pet will do better in a quiet home where there are few interruptions.
  • Do you have a backup plan? If you become ill and require a hospital stay, will someone else be able to care for your pet? What happens if your pet outlives you? These aren’t pleasant things to think about, but they’re important. Many cats and dogs end up in a shelter (or worse) because their owner can no longer take care of them. On the other hand, if you can provide a good home and have a “just in case” plan in place, there are millions of animals in shelters and foster homes waiting for someone like you.
  • What kind of pet can you afford? Purebred animals can cost thousands of dollars, which is another reason to adopt from a shelter or rescue organization. Many places offer a reduced adoption fee for adult cats and dogs. No matter what type of pet you are considering, food, supplies and vet visits can add up to hundreds of dollars annually, if not more. While you can’t cuddle with a fish, they can be a more budget-friendly option and still provide some of the same benefits as other pets.

Introducing a New Pet to Your Home

It’s not always easy for a new pet to feel at home right away, but you can take steps to help them be more comfortable in their new surroundings.

While you may be eager to show off your new best friend to others, it’s best to give your pet at least a few days to adjust to their new environment and routine. Many dogs, and even some cats, are very sociable and will adapt quickly. Others will need more time and patience.

It’s often a good idea to provide a separate room in your home, if possible, where a new pet can have quiet time to explore and get used to new scents and sounds. This is especially helpful if you already have resident pets or small children around.

Initially, you may want to crate your dog or leave the carrier out for your cat — it can give them an extra sense of security to have a space that’s all their own. If your pet came with a favorite blanket or toy, you can put that in the crate or carrier.

You may also find that your new cat wants to hide beneath the bed, behind the sofa or in a closet. That’s normal, and you may need to make sure there’s food, water and a litter pan nearby. Once your cat feels safer and begins to wander around your home, you can establish a permanent place for the litter pan and food and water bowls.

If you give your pet a chance to settle in on their own terms, soon you’ll both be reaping the rewards of your new relationship.

Moving to a New Home With a Pet

You may already have a canine or feline companion and be wondering what you can do to help your buddy be less stressed if you choose to move to a retirement community.

Much of the same advice applies to any kind of move, though there are a few extra things to think about when moving to a senior living community. These tips can help you and your pet make the transition with as little disruption as possible. 

  • Find out whether there are any pet-related restrictions in your new neighborhood. Not all senior living communities allow pets, though more of them are realizing the wisdom of doing so. Some communities and homeowners associations limit the number of pets residents can have, limit the size of pets allowed and, in some cases, do not permit certain breeds. 
  • Make sure your pet is up to date on vaccinations. Your new community may require your pet to have current tags.
  • As you begin to pack boxes and rearrange items in your home, your pet will be aware of the changes. It may help to let them investigate what’s going on, but do be careful not to let them get in your way. A pet underfoot can lead to injuries for both of you.
  • If possible, take your dog to the new place before you move and let them check it out. You may also be able to meet some of the new neighbors (and maybe their dogs?). This may be a really good idea if you’ll be moving to a retirement community where you’ll be living around more people than they’re used to.
  • On the day of the move, let your dog or cat stay with a friend if possible. As an alternative, perhaps a friend could come stay in a room with your pet that’s closed off from the hustle and bustle of the moving process. At the very least, try to provide a relatively quiet area where your pet won’t be in the midst of activity. That way, there’s less chance that your beloved companion will decide to dart out the door.
  • Wait until everything has been moved into your new home before bringing your pet in, if you can. That doesn’t mean everything has to be in its place. It will just be less traumatic if there aren’t moving people around. And, there will be less risk of your pet escaping to find familiar territory.

  • Be sure to clearly label the box containing your pet’s dishes, toys and bedding so you find it quickly in your new home. Consider not washing your pet’s favorite blanket or bedding before the move. Having familiar scents around will help them feel more at ease in the new place. For the first few days, you might also let them sleep with a garment you’ve worn (they’ll take comfort because it smells like you, their favorite person).

We Adore Pets!

You’ll find that Emerald Heights is a very welcoming place for seniors with pets. If you have questions about bringing your pet — or anything else you may be wondering about — please let us know. We’ll be glad to address any concerns you may have.

If you’d like, contact us so we can set up a time for you to come experience our community up close. That’s the best way to see if we’re the right fit for your lifestyle … and your pet.

Featured Images: Emerald Heights