Pets bring many benefits to a home, and this can be especially true for older people.
Here are the top four benefits to having a pet:
Loneliness and isolation are especially common as we get older, and can impact our health and wellbeing, and a pet can provide consistent companionship.
Some pets also help us stay active. Pet dogs, for example, are a great way of getting regular exercise. Most breeds of dogs require one to two walks every day, all year round. Walking a dog regularly can have huge benefits to mental wellbeing, as well as weight, bone and heart health and vitamin D exposure, to name a few.
Walking your dog is also a great way to get to know people and places in your local area that you might not have been aware of otherwise, and bond with fellow pet owners.
Pets have also been found to reduce stress, anxiety, blood pressure and cholesterol, improve symptoms of depression and help us stay calm and happy. They can offer a routine, and a sense of purpose.
While there are many benefits to having a pet, there are also a few drawbacks that are worth bearing in mind before making a decision.
There are many costs associated with pets, from vets fees to food to toys, and you may need to pay for them to be looked after if you’re away from home for extended periods of time.
Dogs can be a big commitment. They must be walked every day, and if you become injured or otherwise unable to do so, you will have to organise for someone else to take over this responsibility.
There are also some risks that come with having a pet. For example, some pets can cause you to have a fall, which can result in fractures. Some breeds of dogs may be more difficult to train than others, or may become aggressive.
Having a pet is a big responsibility, and it’s only a good idea if you are certain you’re able to look after it. Becoming unable to look after your pet adequately, due to health issues, for example, may result in the animal being taken to a new home, which can be distressing.
Things to consider before getting a pet
Before getting a pet, it’s important to properly think about whether you’re able to care for it. Are you financially able to cover the costs, for example, and if it requires exercise, are you able to go for daily walks?
You’ll also need to bear in mind any allergies you may have, and whether you have young family members coming to visit often. Ensure that you’re able to access the local vet surgery, whether by car or public transport.
You may have to think carefully about which pet is best suited to your needs and your home. For example, a big dog is going to be more work than a small dog, whereas a small dog is going to require more attention than a fish or rabbit. If you aren’t fully mobile, a cat may be a good option as you don’t have to walk them.
How to adopt a pet
The first step to getting a pet is research. Once you’ve decided what animal is best for you, you can find further information online, in the library, or even by asking your friends, family and neighbours who have experience of having pets.
You may decide you’d like to adopt a rescue dog or cat – in which case, you’ll need to think carefully about what breed and size will suit your needs. Many older people tend to choose older dogs and cats, as they can be quieter and easier to look after, for example.
If you’re adopting a rescue, there are many dog and cat rescue centres around the country, and you should be able to find the one nearest to you by enquiring at your local council, having a look online, or asking any pet owners you know already.
You can also look in pet shops for smaller animals, including fish, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs, or find local breeders for dogs.
However you find the animal right for you, you’ll need to ensure it is fully vaccinated, and has been checked over by a vet so that you’re aware of any medical needs.
Service dogs for older people with disabilities
Pets are often used to help support people in their homes. Service dogs, for example, can play an important role for elderly disabled people, for whom they can help carry out everyday tasks.
These dogs are specially trained to help with the tasks people with disabilities struggle to do, such as opening and closing doors, dressing and undressing, picking items up, getting groceries and carrying out daily household tasks.
Planning for the future
There may come a time when you feel unable to properly look after your pet and meet its needs, whether you’re increasingly forgetting when to feed your pet, or are unable to take them for a walk anymore. This can be devastating, but the best-case scenario is the comfort of knowing your pet has gone to another loving home.
For this reason, it’s advisable to remain part of the process if you decide to rehome your pet, to ensure you have peace of mind they’re going to a good home where they’ll receive just as much love and affection. You can even try to ensure your pet’s new owners live nearby and are happy with you visiting from time to time. This could be a close friend or family member.
Planning about what to do with your pet if you die
It’s always advisable to plan for the future, and this includes what you would like to happen to your pet if you become unwell or pass away. Think about whether there’s anyone you trust who would be happy to take your pet on, or if there is a local charity that would help re-home your pet in this scenario.
Are you looking for home care? At SuperCarers, we connect families with experienced local carers to meet their personal care needs. Whether you simply need some extra help at home, or are looking for specialist live-in care, we can help you find the right carer for you. Give us a call on 020 8629 1030 to find out more.
You may also be interested in out blog post about how animals can help alleviate the symptoms of dementia.