Pets can be a great boon for seniors’ health and wellness. Companionship, exercise and a sense of purpose are just some of the benefits. Pets can also reduce blood pressure and heart rate, lead to fewer doctor’s visits and lower the incidence of depression.
There are many considerations when selecting a pet for a senior that you’ll want to explore before deciding which companion is the best fit. Think about your parent’s lifestyle, personality and what level of commitment they can (or want to) handle. Here are four pets that are great for seniors.
Dogs are always a popular choice. They are among the companions that can return as much affection, if not more, than you give, while also requiring walking, feeding, playtime, fresh air and perhaps some socializing. If this sounds like nothing but a burden, think again. A dog’s needs, which are typically greater than some other pets, can help keep your parent on a schedule. These tasks can be important in your later years, freed of the responsibilities of work, raising a family or even maintaining a household. Routine can promote being active, healthy aging and give them a sense of purpose.
Playtime, whether that involves a jaunt in the park or playing with toys in the house, can offer so much joy, and make your parent feel less lonely (especially if they have recently lost a spouse or close friend).
Making new friends the older you get can be difficult. Having a dog can spark easy conversation with other dog lovers when taking a pet for a walk.
When it’s time to pick out a dog, you may want to choose an older dog for your older parent. Puppies are adorable, but they come with the responsibilities of training them, as well as higher initial costs. In addition, mom and dad may have trouble matching a puppy’s exuberance and energy. Be sure to do your research on breeds; certain types of dogs do better with certain types of owners, and some have greater energy and exercise needs than others.
Cats are another one of the best pets for older adults. They can also offer a cure or at least a salve for loneliness, and bring their owner great joy. They can also present a sense of purpose. While their schedules are generally less rigid, cats require feedings, litter box cleanings and some playtime just like any pet.
If your parent can’t get around well anymore, a cat may be a better choice due to its limited needs. If your parent enjoys a more active lifestyle or travels frequently, cats also make a good choice because they can be left alone for longer periods of time, with just a sitter to look in on them here and there.
Believe it or not, fish can be great stress relievers. Many older adults can find some relaxation in just watching them swim around. Plus, the energy and cost is minimal. Fish may also be one of the best pets for older adults if they are prone to allergies that dog and cat hair can bring. Even fish, who only need regular feedings and tank cleanings, can help make your parent feel needed. Do your research on fish that have greater longevity as you don’t want your parent to go through any additional loss.
Birds offer the somewhat unique opportunity of being able to communicate in a language your parent can understand. If they are feeling lonely and would like to stir up some noise or desire a responsive companion, some birds may do the trick. Without too much effort, parakeets, for example, can be taught to speak. Birds can thrive in a cage, without excessive attention, so there’s less cleanup. Perhaps best of all, birds sing, which creates a relaxing and enjoyable environment for you or your loved one.
Whether because of loss, loneliness or needing a sense of purpose, finding the right pet for a parent can promote activity, routine and companionship.