As people age, their security and support system often vanish more than most of us care to think about. Children move to different places to start their own lives. Spouses, friends, and family members pass away. Retirement happens, sometimes bringing boredom with the promise of less stress. It’s a part of life that we often forget about, and therefore take our current lives for granted because of it. That said, all beings age, and you may be able to find comfort and companionship in a non-human companion — a senior pet.
Pets have been proven to have the ability to improve their owner’s quality of life. However, aging pets experience some of the same emotions and challenges aging adults do, and also find comfort in a companion as they age. Pairing up a senior pet with a senior human can be tricky — we’ve all known people in the unfortunate position of putting an aged pet down due to their behavior or sickness that comes with old age. But with some caution and research, a senior pet and person combo could be just what they need!
If you find yourself in charge of pairing a senior with a senior pet, here are some tips on creating the best match. There are a lot of things to think about, but with the right amount of consideration and knowledge, you may find yourself joining two great, mutually needed friends in their last stages of life together. After all, companionship is what makes life worth it for so many people, right? We might as well do our best to ensure that we’re encouraging and helping healthy companionship. Let’s dig in!
Does the senior’s living space accommodate pets in the first place? Something to think about when looking into a senior pet match is just that! Some people want to get their aging loved one an animal companion without considering the possibilities where said senior is living. So first consider the place of residence. After all, the pet has to thrive as much as the senior it’s being assigned to, and environment is a giant part of that!
First, consider the legality and the rules of the living space in question. For instance, if a senior lives in a place of assisted living, the powers that be may not allow pets. It makes sense when you think about it, as many individuals may want a pet, and the home or organization may not be able to accommodate for all of them.
Pets create quite a bit to clean up after if a senior no longer has the capabilities to take care of a pet, especially when several individuals in a nursing home or place of residence have companion animals. For instance, what if a pet becomes sick or contracts fleas? Is the staff able to take preventative or clean up measures in these cases when the senior can’t? Call or check in with the place of residence the person in question is living with and make sure a pet for them is doable in the first place before taking time to set something up you can’t follow through on.
(Note: Some assisted living homes do have community pets, which may meet emotional needs without causing too much of an organizational disturbance in a place that’s already highly stressful).
However, what if a senior lives at their own home or with a loved one? Well, the same rules of space apply, and of course the pet’s ability to thrive and be healthy is important. Is there a yard for your dog to run and play? Places for the cat to lounge and explore? Are there any other pets that might interfere or have problems with yours? These are all valid questions that must be asked, and they all change based on individual situations.
An environmental concern for pets in senior homes is availability of medication and pet-friendly safety concerns. See, in some ways pets are similar to small children. You have to be careful what they get into. For instance, where there are seniors, there are medications. And we need to take into mind storage and disposal of said medication. The same way keeping medication out of reach for small children is crucial, keeping it away from pets is also important.
Using Rx Take Back programs and ensuring old medication is properly flushed are both recommended by Recovery Services of America, though there are some medications that cannot be flushed, and in their case you may need to use some of the Food and Drug Administration’s other, more seemingly unconventional drug disposal methods. Additionally, keeping pets away from bad food, keeping them inside if they’re indoor pets, and providing them with a way in if they’re not is also important. Using “doggy doors” and cat doors could be crucial depending on your situation and the neighborhood you live in. Just be aware.
A match can’t just look good on paper, of course. The way a pet behaves and interacts with people — especially its owner — is crucial. Some pets, especially in their old age, just aren’t good with new people. That’s okay, but a senior may not be the best person for them to get used to. If both require a lot of patience, it may simply be a bad time in an aging adult’s life to have to put up with a difficult pet. So what you need to analyze is the compatibility between a pet and their potential owner.
It’s crucial to find a pet that works well with other people, or at the very least is non-violent. For instance, you don’t want a senior dog that will attack the mailman or visitors. Before a senior pet is matched with their senior human, it should be assured they’re well trained and qualified to work as a “senior pet.” That is, they can provide the comfort, companionship, and any needed services they were matched up with their person to supply them with. And of course, be careful to background check the senior humans as well, as some people do unfortunately have histories of animal abuse.
Violence isn’t the only matter of compatibility however. A pet’s needs have to be taken care of. If the pet in question is one that needs a lot of attention and playing, has a lot of energy, or likes to be taken for extensive walks, make sure the senior you pair them with is capable of giving them those things. For instance, in addition to service dogs being good for mental health, they can help keep people physically active and motivated in a way they need when they get older. But if a senior person doesn’t have the energy or physical capability to do so, then maybe a pet isn’t for them. Keep in mind there are pets, such as fish or a hamster, that require less physical activity
And this ultimately brings us back to the senior’s behavior and capabilities. A history of domestic violence or abuse may be a no-no on the compatibility scale, but what about responsibility? Is the potential owner able to take care of themselves? How can they take care of a pet if they can’t take care of themselves? Of course, some seniors are living in assisted living homes or with family members, and that allows some wiggle room on this front, as long as those around are willing to help out. This is all situational of course, and at the end of the day, just know that the personalities and needs of a pet have to be met by the owner. Make sure a person is able and willing before giving them a new companion to look after.
Age & Breed
It’s important to consider the type of pet you’re matching with a senior. See, some experts recommend smaller dogs for seniors — poodles, maltese, and yorkshire terriers for instance. And it’s true — there are several reasons senior dogs are a good fit for senior humans, in fact. A lot of them, believe it or not, come down to a companionship mutually needed by both. As foreshadowed in the paragraphs above, however, some people don’t mesh as well with a dog. They’d be much better off with a cat or a bird to meet their companionship and mental health needs. It all depends on the individual person and situation.
That said, different animals have their own separate breeds that have different characteristics. For instance, Great Danes and poodles are more peaceful and quiet dog breeds, while pups like corgis are very rambunctious and energetic. Look into the breed of a pet and how that breed’s behaviors typically change as the pet ages. Sometimes things that aren’t problematic at one point of life can be problematic later.
That brings us to the age of a pet. When we use the term “senior pets” we usually mean pets that are older in age. However, it’s not always necessary that a pet is old in age. So in case your pet selection doesn’t include old timers, keep some things in mind that young puppies and kittens are almost always rambunctious and need a lot of attention that a senior may not have the energy for, so they may not make a good senior companion. So age matters and need to be taken into account by how much a senior may be capable of doing in the first place.
As you can see, choosing a pet for a senior (or even vice versa) is a complicated process that requires careful thought and research, both for the person and the animal involved. Are you a senior with a pet? Have you ever given a pet to a senior? How did it turn out, and what challenges did you face? We’d love to hear about it — let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Devin writes from somewhere along the West Coast. He is infected with wanderlust but always tries to bring his dog, Scrummy, along for the ride. You can follow him on Twitter.