Near Mother's Day I read an article suggesting that a good gift for an elderly mother who was still in her own home would be a senior cat or dog from a rescue home. Some compelling reasons about why this would be a good idea were put forward. However, I think there are many reasons against this which need to be given careful consideration.
Firstly, I am not in favour of giving anyone a pet (regardless of the age of the pet or the recipient) without checking with them first they wantand can are for that pet. The person also needs time to think of what pet ownership means and all the responsibilities. Yes, they might want the pet but are they really in a position to take full responsibility for it? If you want to give a friend's child a pet you need to talk it through with the parents first.
Reasons for an elderly person to have a cat or dog Firstly, I will ignore the 'senior pet' part of the equation and consider benefits of owning a dog or cat. There are good reasons in favour, including -
they provide excellent company which is especially important to a person living alone or a person who has difficulty leaving the house
provide a sense of security
may help promote memory recall (according to psychologist Penny B Donnenfeld)
help lower stress levels
reduce blood pressure
reduce risk of heart disease
dogs in particular, increase social interaction
increase physical activity
give the person something positive to talk about
caring for pets is a reason to get out of bed in the morning
Image: Henriet Haan from Pixabay
Benefits of a senior pet Senior animals in rescue shelters can be hard to find homes for. Reasons for considering a senior rescue pet for a senior person include -
are likely to be less active
will be house trained
dogs are unlikely to chew things or be destructive in other ways
walk more slowly
dogs less likely to jump up and push person over
Dogs and cats are considered senior from 7 years onward. Some are still rather active at this age and in excellent health for a few years on. However, there will come a time when the years catch up with them.
Disadvantages of a senior pet At some stage a senior pet will start to slow down and show the signs of age. They will need extra care and the cost of vet bills and medication will increase. These factors can be a problem to senior people -
vet bills can be a financial stress
not all conditions are covered by pet insurance and if the owner has it, that means an extra bill
medications can be expensive
the pet may need frequent vet appointments and the senior person may find it difficult to get pet to the vet
a dog with arthritis may have difficulty getting up and down stairs or in and out of the car. A senior person may not be able to lift them safely due to the size of the dog or because the person is unsteady on their feet.
senior person may have difficulty administering medication if their hands are shaky
there may be no one to care for the pet if the elderly person wants to go on holiday
boarding kennels may not be a good option if the senior pet needs extra care
if the senior owner needs to go into respite, is admitted to hospital or moves into an aged care facility there may be no one to take on the responsibility of caring for the pet, especially if the pet needs special care.
the senior person may stress about how they will cope when their furry companion passes away.
Image:Jan Haerer from Pixabay
A survey was conducted of 600 pet owners. It was found, not surprisingly, having a pet with chronic or terminal illness increased the owner's stress and levels of depression and anxiety. It also lowered their general quality of life.
Each situation will be different. One doesn't know whether the pet will indeed have many health issues with increasing age or not. Some seniors have a network of able bodied friends, neighbours and family who are willing to help when needed. I read about an organisation which encourages seniors to adopt senior pets and provides support. A volunteer will visit to walk the dog and provide other care if necessary. This sounds like a great scheme.
An alternative to a senior person owning a pet is for them to volunteer somewhere that cares for cats and dogs. This way they can benefit from the company of pets without the responsibility.