There are many positives to pet ownership or pet visits, especially for older adults. Caring for a pet gives people a sense of purpose, and the companionship of a friendly animal can help ease depression and loneliness. Some studies suggest that dog owners, for instance, reap the health benefits of fresh air and exercise from taking regular walks with their dog. It may seem like a good idea to get a pet for an aging parent, but there are many things to consider before making a decision that involves long-term responsibilities.
Here are some questions to ask before getting a pet:
- What type of animal would be the best fit? A frisky kitten or puppy that needs house training may be too much for a frail, older person to handle.
- Is the person able to care for the pet’s everyday needs? If he/she has dementia, are caregivers willing to help out with pet care if needed?
- What about the long term? Some animals, such as cats, can live for many years. What will happen if your parent becomes too frail to live at home and has to move to assisted living or another facility? Is there someone in the family who will take the pet? While some facilities welcome pets, many others do not.
- Is pet ownership affordable? Besides food and other supplies, consider the costs of vet visits when the animal needs shots, gets sick, or requires special foods or medications.
An alternative to pet ownership is contact with animals through family, friends, and volunteers. If your parent is living in a long-term care community, there may be a resident pet on site, or the chance to visit with therapy animals. Both give residents the opportunity to enjoy animal companionship without the responsibility of caring for the animal. For example, the Senior Care Tallahassee Memorial Animal Therapy teams visit senior care sites, assisted living, rehabilitation, hospitals, hospices, and adult day care programs. Their trained therapy animals include dogs, cats, parrots, miniature horses, and even a horse. Senior care locations are visited at least once per month.
The bond between people and animals can be of great benefit, improving a person’s mental and physical health and overall quality of life. While animal companionship is not everyone’s cup of tea, for many older adults it can be a source of joy and enliven their environment.
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