According to the American Heart Association, owning a pet, such as a dog, cat or bird, is generally good for your heart. It can help lower your blood pressure, reduce stress, ease anxiety and depression, and improve activity levels. Having a pet also can provide companionship and reduce feelings of loneliness, especially for seniors who live on their own. A pet can help you feel less isolated, more loved and involved.
Whether you live in a private home or at a long-term care facility, a pet can help you enjoy life and keep you active and engaged. In a recent national poll, 88% of pet owners aged 50 to 80 said that their pets help them enjoy life, 86% said their pets make them feel loved and 79% said their pets help reduce stress.
A shelter pet may be just the ticket if you not only want to improve your health and wellbeing but also rescue an animal that needs a loving, safe home. Many unwanted pets that end up at county animal care and control shelters are euthanized if they’re too young, too old, sick, injured or unwanted.
Gentle, active, charming, calm, energetic, amusing, spirited, even-tempered, adaptable, easy-going, obedient, intelligent, playful – these are just some of the adjectives pet owners list when searching for a new pet. A senior who is less mobile may want to opt for a gentle, calm, well-trained, housebroken, smaller or older pet rather than an energetic or overly playful puppy or kitten that still needs to be trained. If you opt for a bird, keep in mind some birds can live a very long time (up to 60 or 75 years for certain types of parrots and 5-30 years for parakeets or conures). Cats can live to about 16 years old, and most breeds of dogs typically live from 10-13 years. If this is a concern, you may want to consider an older pet who is just as loving and needy but won’t outlive you.
But what breed is best? What if you’re not as mobile as you used to be? What should you do if you are unable to take care of your pet?
The following are a few important considerations before getting a new pet:
If adopting a pet is too long-term of a commitment, you might consider fostering a dog or cat. Many local shelters and pet rescues offer foster pet programs where you can take care of a pet for just a short time until they find their “forever homes.” You also will want to make arrangements for your adopted fur-baby should anything happen to you and you can’t take care of it any longer. Be sure to have a backup plan in place with a new loving home arranged just in case. You don’t want your beloved pet to wind up back in a shelter.
If you are thinking about getting a pet for an elder parent or relative, be sure to discuss it with that person first. Surprising someone with a pet is never a good idea and may cause undue stress for both the person and the animal. Make sure to weigh all the benefits of pet ownership and potential drawbacks first. If you and your elder loved one needs help caring for a pet, there are many different services and community resources available, such as dog walkers, litter box cleanup, pet sitters, and more.
If you are looking to adopt a pet, please contact your local no-kill animal rescue organization. In Palm Beach County, you may want to check Peggy Adams Animal Rescue or Big Dog Ranch Rescue. If selected wisely, a new pet can be great for your health and wellbeing for many years to come.