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What Is The Best Pet For A Senior Citizen?

An older woman and her pet rabbit.

If you are an older adult and you are considering adopting a furry friend (or adding one to your home) – be aware that there are certain things to think about and take into consideration before you bring a pet home from the shelter or pet store.

The same would hold true if you were a young parent with small children. The type of pet you adopt needs to be well suited for your household.

What is the best pet for a senior citizen? – The best pets to adopt if you are an older adult is one that fits your lifestyle, your needs, your home environment and one that you can physically care for.

Seniors with limited mobility who are wheelchair or bed bound or even if they have difficulty taking a dog for daily walks with or without a walking aid may find it very difficult.

If they have trouble cleaning out a litter box then caring for a cat or a rabbit may not be suitable. At least, they wouldn’t be able to do so without the help of others.

If the senior lives in a small apartment, they should choose a pet that can be happy in a more confined space. A greyhound probably wouldn’t like the space, but a hamster or a small fish tank would be perfect.

But, one thing is for sure, one of the main benefits of a companion pet is the unconditional love that your new best friend can give you.

Issues for Seniors to Consider When Choosing a Pet

So, you’re looking to be a pet owner. That’s great! There are many wonderful reasons and benefits of having a pet.

So, let’s do it the right way.

Following are a list of questions and issues to consider when deciding on what type of pet is best for senior citizens.

  • What size pet can the size of your home accommodate?
  • Can you manage just one pet or more?
  • Do you want a low-maintenance pet or one with high energy levels?
  • Can you dedicate enough time to your pet(s) to keep them happy and healthy?
  • Can you afford the cost of feeding your pet(s), vet visits, training (if needed) and any toys and furniture you may need for their comfort.
  • Do you have support in place to care for your pet(s) when and if you are unable to?
  • Will you be able to tolerate (and repair) any damage caused by your pet(s)?
  • What do you want from your pet(s)? Protection? Companionship?
  • Are you physically capable of caring for a pet? Will you be capable 5 or 10 years from now?

For active seniors, it is important to consider the activity level of any pet companion when choosing one.

Some animals require more physical exercise than others and senior citizens should be aware of this so they can choose a pet that matches their ability level and limitations.

For instance, working breeds such as herding dogs or hunting dogs may not be suitable for older adults who have low activity levels.

Smaller breeds such as toy poodles or bichons may be better suited for those who cannot handle the extra physical exercise required of larger, more active breeds.

Additionally, senior citizens should also consider if they will have enough time to devote to their pet companion and if they can provide ample attention and care on a daily basis.

By taking the time to make an informed decision, seniors can be sure they will find a perfect pet companion that fits both their lifestyle and needs.

What Types of Pets Should Senior Citizens Consider Getting?

There are many different types of pets that could work wonderfully for anyone, including older adults. The best choice for you will be unique to your needs and lifestyle.

My list of the best type of pets include:

  • Dogs – These are such great companions for seniors but they do require some work. They need to be walked which is great for your daily exercise! They need to be bathed and regular grooming is usually needed. Some may need medical attention but one thing for sure – most dogs are very loving, faithful and protective of their human parents. You can decide whether small dogs or larger dogs would be a better fit for you and your home.
  • Cats – I was never a cat person until I married my late husband who loved them. Now, I love both cats and dogs equally. Cats don’t generally provide the same kind of love and affection that dogs do but they can be very loving (depends on the individual cat) and usually require much less maintenance than dogs. Cats are generally a good choice for a pet for seniors because they tend to be low-maintenance pets.
  • Rabbits – Generally, indoor rabbits that are well taken care of live for 7-10 years, although I have a friend who had a 15 year old rabbit! They are certainly loving and fun to play with and usually very low maintenance. A rabbit can be a good choice for seniors.
  • Birds – My sister had a pet bird for many, many years. Some bird species do tend to live a very long time (20 to 60 years!) so make sure to get that information before you adopt a pet bird and at the very least – make arrangements as to who will take care of that bird if they outlive you. But they can be a great option for seniors!
  • Fish – So, it’s true – fish are not going to cuddle with you and interact with you but they can be beautiful to watch and the simple act of caring for another living thing can be satisfying enough for some older adults.
  • Robotic pets – For seniors who have moderate to severe dementia – robotic pets are a wonderful source of comfort. They can be cuddled, they can seem very lifelike to the older adult. I remember many residents had stuffed animals or baby dolls that they carried with them and it was comforting to them. But today, these robotic pets are more interactive. It’s quite wonderful.
    Read more about how pet therapy benefits people with dementia.

Should Seniors Adopt a Dog?

If the older adult is able to care for (or pay someone to care for) their dog and they have the appropriate type of home and the finances to care for that dog, then the answer is YES! Dogs can be wonderful companions and protectors.

“It gives a person a reason to get up for a walk. Animals fill the empty space,” Franklin said. “It gives one a way to meet people and be a part of the community again.” (Sherri Franklin, Executive Director of the San Francisco-based group Muttville)

Moderndogmagazine.com

The pros of adopting a dog outweigh most any of the cons for many older adults.

Here is my list of benefits:

  • Physical exercise – as long as you or your senior loved one is able to walk safely with a dog – then there is no doubt that having to walk them will force you to get out and about. Some dogs do require long walks so be aware of that when choosing your furry pet.
  • Getting outdoors – even if you are in a wheelchair, as long as you are able to maneuver the wheelchair outdoors (I’m thinking electric wheelchairs) then you can still “walk” your dog and the benefit for you is of course that you are getting outside for some fresh air and change of scenery.
  • Socialization – the mere act of getting outside with your dog will give you more opportunities to meet and greet with other dog owners. You may even have the opportunity to join a local dog club. There are many clubs for specific breeds of dogs.
  • Companionship – dogs offer great companionship because they are generally friendly and playful. This is wonderful for many elderly, especially if they live alone.

The best dogs for seniors, in my personal opinion, are ones that can provide what the senior needs (i.e., companionship, protection, etc.) and ones that are manageable (i.e., the right size).

What is the Best Small Dog for Seniors?

The best type of smaller dog for older adults are ones that are calmer and enjoy being cuddled. These are often Pugs but I have personally seen many mutts and other breeds who would fit these criteria as well.

So, don’t discount a dog because of it’s breed – assess each one individually.

For the most part, I do recommend smaller dogs for seniors. The reason is that walking a larger dog can be dangerous if they pull you quickly. Smaller sized dogs should generally be easier to manage.

Also, smaller dogs can be lap dogs which are perfect for most older adults as they offer a great sense of comfort and stress release as you can sit and pet them while they rest on your lap.

One note I would like to mention also is to not discount looking at senior dogs. Many older dogs are very well trained and can make a wonderful pet.

Popular Dog Breeds for Older Adults

Some of the more popular breeds of dogs that are suitable for most older adults include:

  • Shih Tzu
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Golden Retrievers
  • French Bulldog
  • Bichon Frise
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Boston Terriers
  • Pembroke Welsh Corgi
  • Labrador Retriever
  • Cocker Spaniel

Whatever breed of dog you decide on, remember that there are also many wonderful mutts to choose from in shelters everywhere.

There really aren’t “best dog breeds” for best dogs or anyone because it’s so individualized.

And let’s be honest – although there may be some common traits in certain breeds of dogs, it certainly is no guarantee that every single dog of that specific breed has those traits.

Product Recommendations for Dog Owners

If you are considering getting a dog for yourself (if you are a senior) or for a senior loved one, I can recommend the following products to make caring for them easier and safer.

  • Hands free body leash – if you find it difficult to hold on to a leash (perhaps due to arthritis) you may want to consider this hands free dog leash which straps to your body.
  • Wrist band leash – this is another alternative to using your hands to manage a leash but I would warn that if you suffer from osteoporosis, I strongly recommend that you speak to your doctor first before purchasing these types of leashes. Especially if you have a dog that is large or pulls (which I don’t recommend for seniors anyway).
  • Hands free glove leash – again, another alternative to having to hold onto a leash with your fingers.
  • One handed long handle dog pooper scooper – if bending down to pick up your dog’s “business” after they are done is difficult – you may want to consider getting this easy to use dog pooper scooper.
  • Doggy Steps – if you adopt a very small dog or a senior dog who is unable to jump onto the bed or furniture – to avoid you having to bend down to pick them up you may want to think about using a doggy step product like this one to make it easy and safe for both of you.
  • Elevated Feeders – this is good for both dogs and cats and the purpose really is to make it easier for you to bend down to reach for their food and water bowl. Of course, you can create your own “situation” as well by placing food and water bowls on furniture, benches, etc.

Do Cats Make Good Pets for Seniors?

Cats make excellent companions for the elderly. Cats are low maintenance and have fewer medication issues than dogs. They’re predictable and happy indoors. Bonding with a pet lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, which helps senior owners stay healthier.

Feline friends are among the lowest-maintenance animals out there. They need food, water, human companionship, and a litter box in which to do their business (and can even be trained to use the human toilet).

Cats don’t require walking and are okay with being completely indoor animals.

I would recommend that before you adopt a cat to consider where would you feed him, where would the litter box be and can your living space accommodate scratching posts / furniture and cat toys?

If you or your senior loved one has difficulty bending down towards the floor (where food and water bowls may be as well as the litter box) you must consider what elevated areas in your home can these items be placed on?

A friend’s elderly mother adopted a cat and she used a cane for mobility so we knew it would be difficult for her to bend down to the ground. So, before the cat came into the home, we made sure that she had a table top where the food and water bowl could be placed.

We also built a box in the laundry room to accommodate the litter box and also to store extra litter.

This raised the litter box making it easier for her to clean out – gave her the space to hold a small trash can to put the used litter in and we included a bin with a lid to store about 3 large boxes worth of litter which would be refilled by my friend during her weekly visits.

Read more about the pros and cons of having a cat as a pet.

Product Recommendations for Cat Owners

If a cat is the type of pet that you are looking to adopt – there are a few products that I can certainly recommend.

I am just a couple of years shy of being a senior myself and I personally have 4 cats (yes, I know that makes me a crazy cat lady), so these are products that I use and love.

  • High Sided Litter Boxes – I personally have tried many different types of litter boxes and I like the high sided type of litter boxes and the self cleaning ones as well. I keep my boxes in the laundry room where I have a vinyl floor which makes it very easy to sweep up any bits of litter that my cats may track out of the box.
  • Self Cleaning Litter Boxes – these automated litter boxes eliminate the need to have to always bend down to clean the litter box but you do occasionally have to do that.
  • Litter Lockers – there are products that you can use to place the used litter in to help eliminate any odor but personally I find it more economical to use a small plastic trash can that I purchased at the dollar store. I use plastic grocery bags to line it and as long as I clean the litter boxes every morning and night (which I recommend you do, anyway) there is no odor in my home. People who have never been here always comment how surprised they are that they don’t smell the usual “cat odor” that they detect in other homes.
  • Broom and Dustpan set – I have used mats and sheets and rugs to help to capture any bits of litter that my cats track outside of the litter boxes but frankly, it’s more work to clean them. So, I simply sweep up the floor around the litter boxes every morning and evening and using a broom with an extended dustpan makes it a snap!
  • Elevated Feeders – as I mentioned above in the product recommendations for dogs – having a feeder that is elevated will help you if you have problems bending down to the floor.

Are Rabbits Good Pets for Seniors?

Did you know that rabbits are also used in animal therapy? That’s because bunnies are soft and cuddly, they aren’t noisy, and some breeds are tiny, which makes them an ideal pet for seniors.

Rabbits can be trained to use a litter box and aren’t high maintenance pets. They generally live about 8 to 12 years.

I personally care for a friend’s rabbit (Snickers) whenever they are out of town and he is a 15 year old bunny that they’ve had since he was just a few months old.

He lives indoors and is very friendly and playful but at this point – does require quite a bit of cleanup after him (he is a very elderly bunny after all!)

You can see him for brief moments during our video below.

Generally, rabbits can be very playful and each one (like all animals) have their own personality.

I would say that caring for a rabbit is very similar to caring for a cat. They will use a litter box (Snickers does) and they need to be fed and do require petting and playtime and vet visits (just like a cat would).

Are Birds Good Pets for Seniors?

For elderly adults who have significant problems with mobility – birds are an excellent choice as a pet. Also, several housing options that do not allow cats or dogs will allow birds!

Birds are great for elderly for many reasons!

  • Birds don’t need to be walked. That makes them an excellent pet for elderly who are wheelchair bound or even bed bound.
  • Most housing options allow birds whereas many do not allow dogs or cats.
  • For those seniors who may be allergic to dogs or cats – birds are a great option.
  • Cost to adopt and keep a bird is normally less than adopting and keeping a dog or cat. This does depend on the type and size of bird that you adopt.

But, there are some cons to consider before you buy that birdcage for your new adopted pet.

  • There are birds that are noisier than others so take that into consideration when looking for one to adopt. This is mostly true of larger birds such as Macaws.
  • Certain pet birds can live for a few decades so if any of these are one that you own or want to adopt – please make arrangements for where they will go (who will care for them) if anything were to happen to you. Petfinder.com reports that on average, the following bird species live…
    • Canaries – can live 8 – 16 years
    • Finches – can live 3 – 6 years
    • Lovebirds – can live 8 – 12 years
    • Cockatoos – can live 25 – 40 years
    • Macaws – can live 25 – 40 years
  • They are not 100% maintenance free. Nails and wings should be kept clipped to keep them safe while they play and exercise. And their cages should be cleaned out daily.
  • The size of the cage should not restrict them. It should be large enough so that they can get the exercise they need to be healthy.

Overall – birds can be quite loving. A friend’s 85 year old mother has had a Cockatoo for the last decade and she plays with him throughout the day.

He brings her great joy and it’s lovely to see the two of them interact. She pets him and he rubs his head against her cheek.

What Types of Fish Make Good Pets for Seniors?

You may not consider aquarium fish as “pets” but for anyone who has had an aquarium, it can be a very beautiful and relaxing pastime.

Yes, it’s true. You don’t pet fish, they don’t cuddle with you. But they can certainly be a great source of entertainment.

And one of the great benefits of owning any type of pet is the nurturing that is involved to take care of that pet. Tapping into that – for most people – can be a wonderful way to spend your time.

So, what types of fish would work well for older adults?

  • Fresh water fish are generally easier to care for than salt water fish.
  • The size of the aquarium that you are able to keep in your living quarters will dictate not only the kind of fish but the number of fish as well.
  • Steer clear of betas and goldfish, though. Both have specific needs (goldfish have serious pH balance requirements for their water and can get swim bladder) that may beyond the desire and level of care for seniors seeking true low-maintenance fish. The same goes for salt-water fish. Look toward freshwater tropical fish for the best results.

I would recommend to speak to the folks at your local pet store and tell them your living situation and your capabilities.

They will be able to help you decide what type of fish would work well for you.

Why Pets are Good for the Elderly

I can list 7 different reasons why senior citizens should own a pet.

Combating Loneliness and Depression

Pets can be incredibly beneficial for seniors dealing with loneliness and depression. They provide constant companionship, offering a comforting presence that can help alleviate feelings of isolation.

The routine that comes with caring for a pet, such as feeding and grooming, can provide a sense of purpose and structure, which are often beneficial for mental health.

Physical contact with pets, like petting a cat or a dog, can stimulate the release of endorphins, the brain’s natural mood elevators.

Moreover, pets, especially dogs, encourage physical activity, which is known to alleviate symptoms of depression. Pets can also facilitate social interactions, acting as a social icebreaker during walks or in pet-friendly public places.

The unconditional love and acceptance that pets offer can provide emotional support, improve mood, and enhance the overall quality of life for seniors.

However, it’s important to remember that while pets can provide significant emotional support, professional help should be sought if feelings of loneliness and depression persist or worsen.

Better Heart Health

Seniors who own pets (particularly dogs) are, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association, at reduced risk for cardiovascular disease because pet ownership keeps them active.

Several studies have shown that dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners — probably because their pets have a calming effect on them and because dog owners tend to get more exercise.

Harvard Health Publishing

Better Mental Health

The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic notes that pets can help the elderly and seniors have better mental health by slowing the impact of dementia, elevating mood, and decreasing depression.

May Improve Life Span

In a study involving almost 4 million people throughout the United States, Canada, Scandinavia, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom – the findings were that ownership of a dog “…was associated with a 24% reduction in all cause mortality.” – CNN.com

Help Seniors to Stay Active and Social

Owning pets keeps seniors active and social, helps them make new friends, and get out of the house.

Better Overall Quality of Life

Peer-reviewed medical journals also agree that seniors with pets require fewer (human) doctor visits, and stay healthier because they are working to keep their pets healthy, too.

Security

Pets provide a sense of both physical and mental security for seniors—especially those who live alone, according to U.S. News & World Report

Personally, I can’t imagine a home without an animal companion to care for. As I’ve said before in other articles on our site – after my husband passed away – the only thing that would get me out of bed most days was the fact that I had to care for my pets.

They helped me through the saddest and most depressing days of my life and I truly do believe that they can provide the companionship that many seniors crave for.

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