While many older adults may opt for pet interactions, such as visiting dog or cat cafés or volunteering, pet ownership could be appealing for individuals still able to care for an animal.
5 Best Pet Options for Older Adults
Pets provide numerous perks, including companionship, that could ease the pain of isolation. Experts advise older adults to carefully consider the type of pet to adopt to ensure it is a good match.
“Personally, I have watched my grandparents benefit from having dogs,” noted Dr. Lakelyn Eichenberger, Home Instead® gerontologist and caregiver advocate. “As I grew up, they had a dog they loved but he passed away. I could tell that they were longing for a new dog and got an adorable puppy. But they realized that the pup was too rambunctious and more than they could handle. After finding a new, loving home for him that was a better lifestyle fit for the adoptive family, they found the perfect match for them: two well-trained, small dogs, ‘Punkin’ and ‘Rosie.’ Those dogs now fill their lives with so much joy,” she said.
“It is important to make sure that the pet is a good fit for you or an aging adult. If not, that pet can cause stress and even pose a safety concern,” Eichenberger added.
According to the non-profit North American therapy animal organization Pet Partners, the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) and Home Instead, here are a few considerations for aging adults who want to adopt a pet:
- Smaller may be better. A smaller animal, especially when it comes to dog breeds, may be a better fit. Care of a dog includes regular exercise for the animal such as walks through the neighborhood. If you’re unprepared to deal with a heavier animal, you could get pulled over and fall, which is never a good thing, noted Steve Feldman, HABRI executive director. If you do decide on a larger animal, pet store chains and small independent owners may offer classes or lists of animal trainers in your area. Breeds such as shih tzus, poodles, malteses and miniature schnauzers oftentimes appeal to older adults.
- Older is often calmer. While a smaller animal could be a better fit, so too could an older pet, as Eichenberger mentioned in the story about her grandparents. “If you want a dog that sleeps at your feet, choose a lower energy, older animal,” Feldman noted. “Another benefit is that senior dogs and cats often are harder to adopt so many are looking for a good home and can be a perfect match for older adults.” Active older adults, though, shouldn’t shy away from a higher energy pet. “Active pets provide a good excuse for exercise,” Feldman added.
- Look for ease of care. Pets of any kind are a commitment, but some animals require less care than others. Fresh water fish, for instance, can be a great alternative for older adults who want a pet that doesn’t require a lot of attention, explained Elisabeth Van Every, communications and outreach coordinator for Pet Partners. What’s more, some fish and pet stores offer aquarium-cleaning services. Gerbils, hamsters and rats are surprisingly clean and don’t need a large amount of care, Van Every noted. Bearded dragon lizards can live in tanks or aquariums and often provide an interesting pet for seniors as well as children, Feldman added. Cost a factor? Check out 14 Cheap Pets That Are Easy to Take Care Of.
- Independence can be a plus. While all animals require attention, some are more independent than others. “Cats hit the sweet spot,” Van Every noted. “They don’t need to go outside nor do they need a large amount of care: a litter box, food and water. They do need to be played with, but you can do that sitting or lying down. Best of all, they love to cuddle.” Guinea pigs are resilient and generally easy to care for. They need hay, fresh water.
- Longevity matters. You might not think much about the age of an animal when you adopt, but it’s worth consideration. Many older adults don’t want their pets to outlive them. Parrots, for instance, can live up to 60 years! In contrast, small animals such as gerbils live two to five years while rabbits can live 10–15 years.