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The Right Pet for Aging Parents or Elderly Clients

July 8, 2012

As mentioned in the last blog post most of this month will be focused on pets for your aging parents and elderly clients. If they already have pets then you have seen the positive effects: reason for routine, unconditional love, and socialization factors which all lead to greater satisfaction with current life situations.

Let’s explore the subject in case those you care for have  indicated they would like to have one or two pets.  Cats and dogs make up the majority of household pets across all age spans. Rabbits, birds, gerbils, nice, snakes, tarantulas, and rats appeal mostly to younger age groups, but may not provide the socialization factor appreciated by most older adults.

When assisting your elderly parents or clients in choosing a pet there are a number of things to keep in mind:

* Puppies and kittens are probably not a good choice. They require frequent feedings, multiple potty breaks, training, and sometimes more vigorous exercise than older animals. They also get under foot more easily and can create a hazard leading to falls.

* Physical size of any pet should be considered. Large dogs require longer walks, more physical exercise, and larger servings of food. Small, or mid-sized dogs, are easier to handle on a leash, take up less room in the home or a vehicle, and eat less.

* Dogs need fresh air and exercise. If your parents or clients are unable to walk a dog is there a fenced run or a yard to meet this need? Is there money to hire a dog walker? Who will poop scoop?

* Some breeds of dogs require frequent grooming. Is your parent or client able to perform the task or is there enough money to pay a groomer?

* Long-haired cats do well with frequent combing to combat hair balls. Once again, is your parent or client capable of grooming the cat? If not, is there someone who could be paid to do it or might do it on a volunteer basis?

* Whether to spay or neuter an animal is often not a choice if the animal is adopted from an animal shelter, but if purchased from a breeder this is the owner’s option. Keep in mind that unneutered males and unspayed females can be disruptive in a household and even exhibit drastic changes of behavior at times.

* Is there any history of allergies or sensitivities to pet dander or fur? If so, speak with an animal specialist to obtain information on breeds least likely to cause symptoms.

The advantages of having a pet far out weigh any negatives if the decision is made based on solid information and planning.  The suggestions above are just a starting point to get the dialogue moving and exploration of options considered.

A funny aside: while writing this post I heard a crash in the kitchen upstairs and the sound of hooves on the wood floor. At first I though the dog had come in due to either fireworks or thunder since we were anticipating a storm any minute. I called to the dog encouraging her to join me downstairs where she could cuddle next to me. When she didn’t appear I walked to the bottom of the stairs to offer further encouragement.

Imagine my surprise when I observed our youngest goat standing at the top of the stairs, wild-eyed and panicked, and dropping pellets all over the floor. (I am staying with a friend who has horses, goats, chickens, turkeys, cats, and a dog).  As I went upstairs to lead her back outside to her pen she pranced across the floor running back through the screen door she’d ripped on her way into the house.

A few minutes later, with the crisis averted, the goat returned to her pen and re-secured, and all other animals bedded down for the night I reflected on the timing of the event. No, I don’t recommend goats as an appropriate pet for your aging parents or elderly clients. They can be lovable, but they’re strong, playful, and definitely mischievous.

In closing, let me assure you that having a pet in the home can be a very positive experience for your aging parents or elderly clients. The key to a satisfactory pet experience is to assist them in evaluating the human physical limitations, stamina, and routines against the requirements of the chosen pet in order to find a suitable match.  The blessings of pets at any age have been documented in research and shown to improve life satisfaction, longevity, and social interaction in the elderly.


I’d love to hear your pet stories and appreciate your input.



8 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2012 1:31 pm

    This is great information and I can attest to its validity with my own parents. My 91 year old father was never a cat person and we never even had an indoor cat growing up. My 88 year old mother loves all animals, and I could tell that she needed something to care for besides my dad. They both live pretty self-sufficient lives – my father still drives much to my dismay, although only locally.

    My father kept saying he wanted a dog, but caring for a dog would have probably done them in. I can just about keep up with my own beagle Trudy- it takes my husband, my daughter and me to make sure she is exercised, played with and picked up after. My cat Zingi, on the other hand, is extremely low maintenance and gives back lots of love and affection.

    I don’t know how we did it but my mother and I convinced my Dad to adopt a cat that I found out about at my vet that was up for adoption.

    Lily entered their lives and lived with them for a little over a year, until my father’s asthma started acting up and he couldn’t be in the same room with her.

    Fortunately I found a good home for her and she is thriving, but the difference Lily made in my parents’ lives was profound. My father adored her, and once he got used to the fact that cats don’t obey or perform on command like dogs can do, he respected her for the independent and affectionate spirit she is. My mother groomed her, sat with her and had a little buddy to follow her around the house.

    Pets have an extremely positive impact on everyone, but I think the elderly particularly thrive when they have someone that depends on them and needs them while providing unconditional love. The way we used to do before we grew up.

    • July 10, 2012 4:19 pm

      Thanks for sharing this Patty. I will be posting more stories during the month of July about how pets assist the elderly. I’ve seen it in my family and also with my patients in home health. I appreciate any comments provided by my readers.
      All the best,

  2. July 13, 2012 4:10 am

    Very interesting details you have remarked, appreciate it for posting . ¡°Oh, what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive¡± by Sir Walter Scott.

  3. July 27, 2012 5:23 am

    this is really a nice blog, i will be here often. thank you for your sharing.

    • July 27, 2012 5:02 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment. I have just moved so timing of posting the blog is a little off, but the plan is to post on Monday and Thursday each week. I will have a newsletter available soon with announcements, information, and progress reports on a release date for the book.
      Have a great weekend!

  4. July 23, 2012 4:20 pm

    Thanks for your comment. I hope you’ll visit often.


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