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Your Next Love: Why Having a Pet May Be Good for Your Health

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.

July 01, 2021 — by Caryn Stumpfl

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.

Finding the Perfect Pet Companion

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?

Tips for Finding a New Fur Friend

The following are a few important considerations before getting a new pet:

  • Match the pet to your personality, health and lifestyle. Are you allergic to pet dander? You may want to avoid cats and certain dog breeds. A terrier or poodle with real hair may be a better choice. If you are active and take frequent walks every day, then an active and energetic dog may be just right for you. If you are sedentary or less mobile, a loving small lap dog or cat might be a good option. Some good small breeds of dogs for seniors include: Cocker Spaniel, West Highland White Terrier, Pug, Border Terrier, Chihuahua, Scottish Terrier, Maltese, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Miniature Schnauzer, or Pembroke Wesh Corgi.
  • Consider your living arrangements. Will the pet be in your own private home, rental apartment or assisted living residence? What are the rules where you live concerning pets? What if the pet stains or rips up the carpet? Do you need to pay a pet deposit? Many independent living and assisted living facilities now allow residents to bring their pets with them, but be sure to check the facility’s guidelines first to make sure it is pet friendly.
  • Who will be responsible for the pet’s care? Are you able to walk a dog, feed the animal daily and generally care for the pet or will you require assistance? Do you have a friend or family member to help you with caring for your pet if needed? As you age, will you be able to keep up with the necessary pet care? Finding a reliable helper is very important. If you need help, be sure to arrange it before bringing the pet into your home.
  • Can you afford the costs of pet ownership? In addition to the initial expenses of purchasing or adopting an animal, consider the costs of spaying/neutering, food, litter box for a cat, leash and crate for a dog, vet bills for vaccinations and checkups, toys, beds, etc. The costs could be well over $500 per year for a healthy cat or small dog. If the animal is older, vet costs can be significantly higher.
  • Pet care and grooming. Dogs need to be brushed, bathed, trimmed or groomed frequently. If you can’t do it yourself, you’ll need to pay a groomer. Some pets and certain breeds are prone to health problems and may require frequent trips to the vet. Fleas can also be a big problem (especially in Florida and other warm climates) year-round, and pets need to be treated monthly. Long-haired cats need frequent brushing and attention. Short-haired cats are not as high maintenance, but you will still need to clean and change their litter boxes regularly. Bird cages and fish tanks also need to be cleaned regularly.
  • Strength and agility of the pet owner. Are you strong enough physically to handle a pet? Can you hold on to the leash or pick up the pet when needed? Can you chase after a dog that gets loose? Are you prone to falls or have bad hips or knees from arthritis? A more cuddly, small breed of dog or cat (or bird/fish) may be a better choice than a bull mastiff or greyhound if strength and agility is a concern. 

Do You Have Room In Your Heart for a Little Love?

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. 

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