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What’s the Best Pet for an Elderly Person? (With Pros and Cons)

Summary (TL;DR):

Choosing the best pet for an elderly person can be a difficult task. There are a lot of situations to consider. Learn the pros and cons for each type of pet for seniors and the elderly.

Is there anything sweeter than coming home to the wagging tail of an adoring pet?

Didn’t think so.

From the beginnings of time, pets have always been a part of our lives and families. They make our days brighter and become our most loyal companions.

Regardless of our age, having a pet has wonderful benefits; our furry –or feathery, or even scaly!- little friends have many things to teach us.

They help children become more responsible and provide company for teenagers. They even become a member of our family when we are adults. But have you ever stopped to wonder about the benefits a pet can bring to seniors?

There are many different types of pet animals and each type has different needs and provides different benefits.

From traditional dogs or cats, to something more exotic like a bird, each pet will provide a different experience. You can always find the perfect friend for your senior loved one, as long as you keep an open mind.

Read on to find out which is the best pet for seniors.

Dogs – Traditional Companionship Pets for Seniors

senior lady cuddling her pet dog

Dogs are the most traditional and well-beloved kind of pet. How many of us reminisce about our childhood puppies?

Historically, dogs have been at our side for many centuries. It’s easy to see why: they are energetic, incredibly loving, and can be trained to do many things. They provide seniors with a sense of calm and security and they are always eager to play and engage with you.

Seniors who are lonely will find great solace in a dog. It is hard to find a more loving pet than a pup and they will always be happy to keep your loved one company.

Dogs are incredibly smart, too. They can be trained as service dogs soothing anxiety attacks, guiding blind citizens, and even aiding someone during a seizure. Regardless, they will comfort you or your senior family member.

Dogs’ Care Needs:

Since dog breeds are so numerous and different from one another, each dog’s needs can be very different.

Room to Roam. Smaller dogs might settle in just fine in an apartment or small house while larger pups will need more space to roam around and spend their energy.

Potty Needs. Dogs will need to be –at least – potty trained in order to ensure a hygienic household. And unless your loved one has access to a yard, the dog will need to be taken on walks in order to go potty. Depending on the dog’s size, age, and breed, they might need to go for a walk once or a few times each day.

Food and Diet. They also need to be fed a balanced diet, which can be achieved through store-bought dog foods. Certain foods, such as chocolate, must be avoided completely.

Medical Needs. Dogs also need to be vaccinated and get regular check-ups at the vet. In most cases, they need to be dewormed at certain intervals, and you shouldn’t forget about seemingly smaller details such as dental hygiene.

Bathing and Grooming. Dogs also need to be groomed and bathed regularly to ensure their coat stays clean, free of ticks or flies, and to avoid matting.

Toys. If you want to stop your dog from destroying shoes and furniture, they will also need to have at least a few toys available.

Overall, dogs are amazing pets that can bring tons of joy to seniors, but they do require a high level of care. This makes them better suited to seniors who are healthy and active; otherwise, both the senior and the dog might struggle to adapt to each other.

RELATED GUIDE: Best Dogs for Widows and Widowers

Pros

  • You’re practically guaranteed to find the perfect fit for your loved one’s space, since there are so many different dogs out there.
  • It’s very easy to find a loving dog in a shelter, just waiting to be adopted!
  • Dogs can be trained to learn many skills and tricks.
  • Incredible loving; they will always keep your loved one company.

Cons

  • Dogs require a lot of care: from vet appointments to daily walks, they need someone who is healthy and active to be their primary keeper.
  • They might not be the best pet for seniors suffering from dementia or other neurodegenerative diseases: a simple mistake such as feeding your dog a chocolate chip cookie can be fatal.

Cats – Lower Maintenance Companions for the Elderly

senior lady with cat on her lap

We all know that cats are far more independent than their canine counterparts. This has its benefits: cats are great pets for seniors who have limited mobility.

If your elderly senior isn’t able to go on daily walks or provide the amount of upkeep required by dogs, then a cat might be the perfect pet for them. They will still provide all the companionship and affection your loved one needs without so much hassle. 

Most cats will be happy to stay indoors all day. Depending on where you live, they might go out for a walk alone and then come back home without any issues.

Many cats will also be happy to stay in your loved one’s lap for extended periods of time, purring or simply taking a long nap. They tend to be very hygienic pets and will learn to go potty in a litter box in no time. 

Cat Needs:

Toys. Cats also love to play and they enjoy games that won’t require a senior with chronic pain conditions or problems getting around to make much effort. A laser toy or a kitty fishing pole will provide your cat with hours of entertainment, but they don’t require the owner to be mobile.

Medical. Just like dogs, they need to be taken to the vet with some regularity. They need to be vaccinated and groomed.

Brushing and Grooming. Cats also tend to shed a lot of fur so they need to be brushed regularly. Keep in mind that some people are especially allergic to cat dander or saliva, and these allergies might make it impossible your loved one to own a cat.

Litter Box. Even though they don’t need to be taken on walks to go potty, their litter boxes still need to be cleaned regularly. These days, you can find a number of automatic kitten litter boxes that will do the cleaning for you and you simply need to empty a deposit once every few days or even weeks.

Cat Cautions

Although a happy cat will be loving and gentle, cats do tend to be more temperamental than other pets.

They don’t like being grabbed or picked up when they don’t feel like it, and an angry cat will usually let you know when it’s displeased. Cat bites or scratches can easily become infected. Immunosuppressed individuals shouldn’t own cats, since they can carry the Toxoplasma gondii parasite which causes toxoplasmosis. 

Pros

  • Cats are more independent than dogs, which makes them ideal for seniors with limited mobility.
  • They don’t need to be taken on walks or play in large spaces; instead, they will usually be happy to stay indoors.
  • Cats will quickly learn to go potty in a kitty litter box, which will eliminate unpleasant odors.

Cons

  • Temperamental cats might bite or scratch their owners when they feel displeased.
  • Many people are allergic to cats.
  • Immunosuppressed individuals shouldn’t be in close contact with cats, since they can transmit toxoplasmosis.

Birds – Surprisingly Good Pets for the Elderly

Although they are sometimes overlooked by those looking for a new pet, birds can be a wonderful addition to your loved one’s life.

They are small and easy to care for. But they will still provide company and many hours of fun. If you live in a small space and isn’t mobile enough to care for a larger pet, a bird might be a great idea.

Provided that they have a large enough cage, birds can stay inside at all times, while still interacting with their owners. This makes them one of the best pets for senior citizens.

Care Needs:

Although birds are less expensive than other pets, they will still require some money to care for. Also, birds shouldn’t be considered ornamental pets; they will still require their owner’s time and attention.

Grooming and Bathing. Grooming is also much easier when you own a bird. In fact, most birds will groom themselves! They will preen and keep their feathers clean and shiny. Many birds do need to get their nails and beaks trimmed. But, you can arrange for a professional to do this for your loved one.

Cage Use and Cleaning. Cleaning the tray of their cages is relatively simple compared to the cleanup other pets require.

Medical Needs. Just like any other pet, birds still need to be taken to the vet regularly.

Feeding. Birds are inexpensive to feed. But, you still need to be careful and provide them with a quality diet to ensure their health.

Toys/Play. Birds are often social creatures and need interaction and stimulation. They also need to have toys placed in their cage.

Space Requirements. Birds are very social and love to interact with their owners and many times it is safe for them to be taken out of their cages for a while each day. If your bird belongs to a species that needs to be allowed out of its cage, it might become depressed if it is forced to always stay inside the cage. This might be difficult for some elders.

Bird Cautions

Also, keep in mind that birds can harm humans with their beaks and nails. In some cases, some birds might become aggressive towards some members of your family if they don’t like them.

Pros

  • Easy cleanup and grooming.
  • Less high-maintenance than other types of pets.
  • Highly sociable pets that love to interact with their owners.
  • Playing with them will require less mobility than other pets.
  • Can live in small spaces.

Cons

  • Birds can bite or scratch their owners when displeased.
  • If they need to have their nails or beak trimmed, you might need to pay a professional to do it.
  • Some birds need to be allowed to go out of their cages regularly.

Fish – Low Maintenance Pets for Elderly

Watching fish swim around can be incredibly relaxing. Their smooth movements and vibrant colors can be soothing and stress relieving.

If you or your elderly loved one isn’t mobile or is otherwise unable to look after other types of pets, fish can be a wonderful option. Simply watching them can be a form of entertainment. Fish can provide a welcome distraction for seniors whose health is declining.

While keeping your fish healthy does require some knowledge and care, they are still easier to care for than larger pets like dogs or cats.

Fish Care Needs:

Equipment. You’ll need at minimum a fish bowl but a full aquarium set-up would be better. You should be able to find many gadgets that will make it easier to keep their tank clean and your fish healthy. Deciding how to decorate an aquarium can also be great fun for seniors. Selecting plants, decorations, and different types of fish can become an entertaining hobby.

Feeding and Environment. Fish owners need to be careful not to over or underfeed their friends. Water parameters such as pH and nitrites need to be checked regularly to ensure the quality of the environment. Fish can be very sensitive to changes in their environment, and it’s hard to notice signs of illness or old age in them.

Dealing With Waste. Neutralizing substances need to be used in order to eliminate harmful components such as chloramine from the water you are going to add into the tank. You also need to clean or vacuum the gravel at the bottom of your fish tank in order to remove droppings or uneaten food. 

Tank Cleaning. The inserts inside your water filter, and the filter itself, need to be changed or cleaned regularly. The walls of your fish tank will also need to be cleaned.

Keeping Multiple Fish. If you want to keep more than one fish at a time, you need to do some research in order to discover which types of fish can live together. Many types of fish have different water and food requirements which makes it impossible to keep them in one tank. Other types of fish, like beta fish, will attack other fish if placed together.

Pros

  • They don’t require much attention or interaction.
  • Watching fish can be soothing and entertaining.
  • Filters will make cleaning much easier for seniors.
  • No training needed.

Cons

  • Water parameters such as pH need to be checked regularly.
  • Filters need to be cleaned and missing water must be replaced and treated.
  • Although relaxing, they won’t provide a high level of interaction.
  • It’s hard to determine when a fish is sick, making them delicate pets.

Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

Having a pet can have many wonderful health benefits for seniors. They help reduce stress and anxiety, keep boredom away, and provide loving company. Loneliness can be a sad reality for many seniors, and any pet will help them feel better. 

Many health benefits of keeping a pet have been scientifically proven. Having a pet can lower blood pressure levels, improve their sense of self-worth, encourage activity and socialization, and offer a comforting sense of security. A pet can also help reduce rates of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels.

A senior who gets a new pet might be encouraged to read about their new friend and how to care for them, providing another layer of mental stimulation. They also make life more rewarding and fun. Senior owners usually have lots of time to devote to their pet which makes them ideal pet owners – as long as you find the right fit for them.

Safety Tips for Keeping Pets with Elderly

  • When choosing a pet, take your health condition and fitness level into consideration.
  • A senior who isn’t mobile or suffers from chronic pain will probably not be the best match for a young puppy who needs to be potty trained and played with for hours.
  • A large and heavy dog will probably be too much to handle for a fragile elder. 
  • If necessary, arrange for someone to help care pet. Something as simple as hiring a dog walker can take a huge weight off their shoulders.
  • Many vets offer transportation services, making it easier for your loved one to ensure that their pet makes it to their veterinary and grooming appointments.

Frequently Asked Questions / FAQ:

Should Seniors With Dementia Have Pets?

If an elderly suffers from a neurodegenerative condition, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, pets that can scratch or bite can be dangerous.

Something as simple as trying to grab a grumpy cat, or stepping on the tail of an anxious dog can lead to severe accidents. In these cases, pets such as small birds or fish would be the best option.

You should also make sure to keep your loved one’s medications separate from their pet’s, since senior pet owners have been known to mistakenly take their pet’s medications.

Should Terminally Ill Elderly People Have a Pet?

You’ll need to make provisions for the future.

If your loved one is very elderly or sick, think about getting them a pet with a shorter life span. If you choose a pet with a longer life expectancy, you should make provisions for the pet in case your loved one passes.

Pets are a life-long commitment and you need to know who will take the pet in that case.

If your loved one truly desires to get a dog or cat, many senior pets are in shelters waiting for a loving home where they can live out their golden years.

Can Seniors Have Pets in Assisted Living?

Even though not all senior living communities allow their residents to have a pet, you can find many pet-friendly assisted living arrangements. Some even have staff dedicated to helping owners care for their pets. Many communities even offer pet-therapy for seniors who don’t own their own pet where service dogs or pets from the local shelters visit seniors regularly. 

Those communities that do allow pets usually have species or size restrictions. They might not allow your loved one to have a large dog, but smaller breeds might be fine.

In some cases, dogs or cats aren’t allowed, but fish, birds, and other small animals do comply with their rules. It’s all about finding the right pet for the right owner in the right community.

The best pet for an older person is the one that they can properly care for and will provide them with company and entertainment. 

Final Thoughts

I hope this information has helped you decide which is the best pet for you or an elderly loved one. Or, maybe you’ve decided not to get one at all….

Let me know your thoughts and decision in the comments below. Also, I’d appreciate a social share if this information was helpful!

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About Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Assistive Technology Professional, Custom Wheelchair Specialist, Medical Equipment Guru, Dad and Grandfather | I am a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not working as a custom wheelchair specialist at a regional home medical equipment company, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's.

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