Wondering if it’s a good idea to find a new pet for a parent or grandparent? It’s a question that often comes up around the Holidays. Like the Christmas my brother decided to give my parents a voucher from the local pet shelter for a dog or cat, without asking if they wanted one. We certainly had a lively discussion over dinner that year!
Pets can provide significant companionship for older adults, especially if your family member lives alone. However, if you want the senior in your life to benefit from a new pet, first ask yourself these questions and consider your answers carefully:
#1 Has your loved one owned a pet in the past?
Your loved one may not have cared for a pet in the past and may be unaware of the care needs for a new pet. Having family discussion about the costs associated with pet ownership, who will care for the pet, and a plan for regular veterinary care is important prior to finding a new pet.
#2 Does your loved one have balance or fall concerns?
Think about the logistics in your loved one’s home, as small pets can be a significant tripping hazard on or off a leash.
#3 Is there easy access to a fenced in yard for a dog’s potty breaks and exercise, or is your loved one able to take a dog on frequent walks?
It’s a good idea to check with your local veterinarian about dogs most suited to apartment living, requiring less frequent exercise or shorter walks if needed. Or, perhaps, caring for a cat would be a better choice based on your loved one’s living situation.
#4 If your loved one is a member of a care community, what are the rules about pets?
There are often regulations about pet type and size in independent living, as well as assisted living facilities. There may also be fees associated with pet ownership in these circumstances. Find out if there is an easily accessible area to walk a dog and what the rules are about pet waste disposal.
#5 Would a visiting pet be just as helpful?
Some care communities own a resident pet, or therapy pets may visit a facility on a regular basis. Also, pet visits with a family member can make for a wonderful afternoon, without the worry of navigating pet care needs.
#6 What are alternatives to pet ownership, if ongoing care for a pet is of concern?
Contact your local pet shelter to ask about volunteer opportunities. A family member or non-medical personal care assistant can help with transportation if your loved one has retired from driving. This is a win-win situation for an isolated senior to get out of the house and offers a great sense of purpose through volunteerism. Or, you might want to consider short-term foster care of a pet as an option for your family. Check out this podcast on the different arguments of having a companion animal.
These are 6 thought-provoking questions to ask yourself before considering a new pet for the senior in your life. Do you have others to add? Let us know in the comments!