America has long been known as a pet-loving nation. According to a National Pet Owners Survey, 70% of U.S. households own a pet. The National Poll on Healthy Aging, conducted by the University of Michigan, reports that 55% of adults 50 and older have pets.
Older adults and pets just go together. Pet ownership can help battle senior mobility limitations, health issues and low energy that can keep them isolated. Especially in seniors who live alone, social isolation can lead to loneliness, depression and poor physical health, but companion pets for seniors can help alleviate these maladies.
Learn why seniors should consider owning a pet, what to know when thinking about a pet, and which are the best pets for seniors.
Why Should Seniors Have Pets?
Pets can contribute to the well-being of seniors. According to the Michigan study, older pet owners reported that having a pet:
- Helped them enjoy life (88%)
- Made them feel loved (86%)
- Reduced stress (79%)
- Provided a sense of purpose (73%)
- Connected them with others (65%)
- Encouraged physical activity (64%)
Pets can also help with safety, protection and creating and maintaining routine.
The pandemic only accelerated pet ownership among seniors, with 10% reporting getting a new pet between March 2020 and January 2021, according to the Michigan study.
What Should Seniors Consider When Thinking About a Pet?
Many factors go into deciding what is the best pet for seniors You should consider whether a pet fits your lifestyle, your needs, your home and your caring abilities. For example, seniors who use wheelchairs or are confined to bed might have difficulty with any pet that requires a lot of maintenance.
Here are some more points to consider:
- Are you physically capable of caring for a pet? Will you remain capable long term?
- Can you dedicate enough time to keep your pet happy and healthy?
- Do you have support to care for your pet if you are unable to?
- Is the cost of a pet manageable, including food, medical care, training and toys?
- What size pet can your home and physical ability accommodate?
- Will you be able to manage just one pet or more?
If you’ve made the decision to get a pet, look first into adopting from a local animal shelter. The ASPCA says that about 6.3 million pets are placed into shelters every year, and 4.1 million are adopted. These animals need companionship as much as seniors do.
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What Are the Best Pets for Seniors?
Dogs are by far the most popular pets in the United States. The APPA National Pet Owners Survey says almost 70% of pet owners have a dog.
Dogs are the choice of many people because they are affectionate, loyal, protective, helpful, playful and love attention. The downside is that many dogs need a lot of care and exercise. Some dogs are also more likely to trigger allergies.
Some of the best breeds for seniors include:
- Bichon Frise – These small dogs have more grooming needs but don’t shed too much and have moderate energy.
- Boston terrier – These dogs are friendly, well-mannered, affectionate, have a lot of energy and are easy to groom.
- Cavalier King Charles spaniel – These small dogs are affectionate, easily trained and love being with their owners.
- English bulldog – These dogs are low-activity pets, and are shy and quiet, but need regular grooming.
- French bulldog – Like their English cousins, they’re quiet and don’t need a lot of exercise, but need grooming.
- Miniature schnauzer – These dogs are energetic and playful, obedient and eager to please, but can be vocal.
- Pomeranian – These perky little dogs are energetic, love attention and need regular grooming, but don’t need too much exercise.
- Poodle – These intelligent dogs adapt well to different environments and don’t shed much but need a good amount of exercise and grooming.
- Pug – These small dogs are affectionate and playful, requiring less exercise, but they can be stubborn.
- Yorkshire terrier – These tiny dogs don’t shed, don’t need too much exercise and don’t need too much grooming.
Here is a quiz from the American Kennel Club that can help you select a dog breed that fits your capabilities and needs.
Cats come in second with pet owners, according to the APPA survey, at 43%. Cats are more independent and need a little less looking after, but they have their demands, too. Cats need space and a warm lap to occupy.
Some of the best cat breeds for seniors include:
- American bobtail – These cats are affectionate and don’t like to be left alone, bonding with their humans.
- American shorthair – These cats are people-oriented and love to cuddle, which makes them a good companion for seniors.
- Birman – This is an affectionate, gentle and intelligent cat that loves companionship, has a playful side and is low-maintenance.
- British shorthair – These fuzzy cats are good-natured and playful as kittens but mellow as they age.
- Chartreux – They are calm and playful, making them a good match for seniors.
- Himalayan – These cats are gentle and calm, preferring to live in a calm environment, which makes them a good match for older pet owners.
- Persian – These are calm, easygoing cats that love a quiet atmosphere that a one-person home can give them.
- Ragdoll – This cat is very laid back, loving and calm, with a tendency to follow you around.
- Russian blue – These cats are friendly, affectionate and loyal to their pet family.
- Siberian – These cats are calm, affectionate, playful and bond closely to humans, making them good therapy pets.
Here is a quiz to help determine the best cat breed for you.
Fish are a surprising third most favorite choice for pet owners, with 14.7% saying they have either a freshwater or saltwater fish, according to the APPA survey. Fish are relaxing to watch and care for, making them a great choice for seniors.
Fish are very low-maintenance, requiring only a bowl or a tank. They need only food and a good tank cleaning now and then. The top expense will be the equipment for its living space.
Here are a few of the best low-maintenance fish:
- Betta – These fish, also called Japanese or Siamese fighting fish, are lovely and small with flowing tails. They are a clean fish so require a change of water less often.
- Dwarf puffer fish – These tiny freshwater fish are relatively inexpensive. They keep an eye on their owners, like bettas.
- Goldfish – This is the most common pet fish, with the fancy-tailed varieties considered the most attractive. They can be a little more messy so might need more water maintenance.
- Guppy – These fish love company, so have an environment large enough for a few. They come in a variety of colors.
- Molly – This hardy and easy-to-keep fish is a live bearer, so there is a chance that any molly you adopt will be female and pregnant. You might have several fish before you know it.
- Tetra – These consist of many subspecies of colorful fish. Tetras should be kept in groups, about five or six per species.
Birds are generally low-maintenance, compared to dogs, and don’t necessarily need to be taken out of a cage. This makes them a good option for seniors with mobility issues. The singing, twittering and talking of birds can be a therapeutic comfort to seniors who are otherwise alone.
However, birds can have a long life, so seniors considering birds need to also plan for the pet’s future without them.
- Canary – These birds are considered calming, with softer songs and less vocalization from the females compared with the males. They are active, friendly and social and can be kept in their cages permanently.
- Cockatiel – These whistling, singing birds are medium sized. They can also learn to mimic sounds around the house, so don’t be surprised if the “telephone” starts ringing.
- Lovebird – These pets chatter quietly, so they make a good choice if you have apartment neighbors. They can be intelligent and personable, but nippy and opinionated.
- Parakeet – These birds have tiny voices and can be taught words and basic tricks. They’re active, intelligent and social. They are affectionate to humans and require more out-of-cage attention.
- Zebra finch – These quiet birds are sociable and active, but should not be allowed out of their cages. They prefer to be kept in flocks of two to four.
Rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, mice and ferrets can have short lifespans or can live as long as dogs and cats. They all require routine care, food, company and protection. Some of these animals may be nocturnal so won’t make as good a companion during the day.
Consider whether there are other pets in your household that can be a threat to these small animals.
Find out more about small mammals as pets.
Here’s an unexpected choice for some seniors – robotic pets. For seniors with dementia, robotic pets that look and behave like their live counterparts can be a source of comfort without any maintenance at all. They can be cuddled and can interact with seniors.
Check out shops like the Alzheimer’s Store and Amazon for more information.
Find Comfort and Fulfillment at Senior Lifestyle Communities
If you’re looking for a comforting, secure living atmosphere, consider Senior Lifestyle. We help seniors and their families live with ease, while creating a vibrant and healthy lifestyle for our residents. Many of our communities are also pet-friendly.
Find out more about Senior Lifestyle today.