Seniors and Pets: The Benefits, Ownership Costs, and Care Guide

Americans love their pets. They can be a handful and they are a big responsibility, but they bring an immense amount of joy to our lives. For seniors in particular these little bundles of joy can provide a number of benefits, including improved fitness, reduced risk of heart attacks, and more.

Here are a few reasons why seniors should consider welcoming a pet into their home. 

Pets Provide Owners with Many Health Benefits

Whether you choose a dog, cat, bird, or small animal, pets can provide you with numerous physical and mental health benefits, including:

  • Improved Heart Health: Multiple studies have shown a link between pet ownership and a reduced risk of high blood pressure and heart problems. There are several factors at play here, including the reduced loneliness, increased exercise from regular walks and playtimes, and a general feeling of contentment that you get from cuddling with your furry friend.
  • Recovery and Rehab: Not only can owning a pet decrease your risk of developing heart conditions, but it has also shown to help patients recovering from heart attacks and other serious medical episodes.
  • Social Interactions: Having a dog is a great excuse to get out and about. You can meet other pet owners and share in your common love for canines.
  • Longer Life: A major study conducted on pet owners and non-pet owners found that the former are 33% less likely to die prematurely.
  • No More Loneliness: Many seniors are alone, with friends who have passed and family that lives too far away. During such times, a pet can be the perfect companion. Loneliness is a leading contributor to many mental health problems, and preventing it can improve mood, levels of anxiety, and even insomnia.
  • Stress: Having a pet can reduce levels of stress and has proven to be particularly beneficial in patients suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s.

They Are Not Expensive

It’s often said that pet ownership is expensive. It can be, but as with anything it depends on you, your pet, and the choices you make.

If you buy an African Grey Parrot or a pedigree poodle and lavish it with toys, gifts, and the finest foods, it will cost you tens of thousands of dollars over its lifetime. That said, your pet doesn’t care if its bed is from Walmart or Versace, and most animals would rather feast on cheap offcuts than the finest steaks and fresh fish. 

Here are some tips for responsible and affordable pet ownership, focusing on cats and dogs, the most common and often the most expensive pets:

Adoption = up to $150 

Why buy a pedigree puppy when there are hundreds of dogs in your local shelter? These animals are desperate for companionship and you could be saving their life by giving them a home. You’ll also save some money and the money that you do spend will go to the shelter and not a breeder.

Spaying or Neutering = Up to $250

This is an essential service. Not only will it prevent unwanted pregnancies but it can also increase the animal’s lifespan, reducing the risk of many different types of cancer:

  • Male Dogs and Cats: Reduces the risk of testicular cancer and prostate problems.
  • Female Dogs and Cats: Reduces the risk of breast tumors and uterine infections.

In addition, it can calm the animal and make them more relaxed.

Vaccines and Medications = Up To $200

Keep your pet vaccinated against all major diseases and ensure they get proper medication after leaving the shelter. They will receive numerous vaccines to reduce the risk of several potentially fatal diseases.

Annual Care Costs = $500 to $1,000

A small dog or cat is much cheaper to care for than a big dog, but both can be very affordable if you shop smartly. 

Try your pet on a few different foods, see which ones they like, and buy that variety in bulk. You’ll save money and time and should spend less than a couple of hundred bucks a year.

With dogs, they can also snack on some of your food and eat the scraps. Be careful with cats, however, as many different foods can cause them serious harm or digestive distress.

Grooming costs, vet appointments, toys, and healthcare are where the additional expenses come from. 

Of course, these are the basic costs and they don’t consider that many pet owners will happily buy special treats, accessories, and toys for their pets. Regardless, these are the things you choose to buy when you have the extra funds and are not essential for the animal’s health or wellbeing.

Pets Can Provide Protection

A cat probably won’t provide you with much protection. They’re amazing creatures, but if anyone breaks into your house they’re more likely to hide or beg for a treat than to fight back. 

A dog, however, will warn you, and a big dog serves as a huge deterrent as well as a protector.

It’s important, however, that you don’t get a dog just so you can have a little peace of mind when you’re home alone. That animal still needs to be cared for and loved. It’s not an emotionless sentry assigned to guard your property, that’s simply an added benefit.

Don’t be too tempted to opt for the most aggressive dog you can find. While it will certainly give burglars a good run for their money, it may also be a nightmare to care for and could scare your grandkids. Any big dog with a loud bark will do, as they tend to be very protective creatures.

Which Pet is Right for You?

The age of the pet is one of the most important considerations. The younger they are, the more boisterous they will be, and if you have mobility issues and lack energy throughout the day they can be hard to handle.

Older animals might be better options in such instances, but it can also depend on the pet’s personality. Just like humans, they all have their own unique quirks. Some are constantly active and never seem to settle down, while others are happy to sleep all day if given the chance.

Cats vs. Dogs

Dogs are great companions and are much more loyal than cats. They also need to be walked, and if you’re looking for an excuse to exercise and get some fresh air they are the perfect choice.

However, remember that they will need to be walked every day. If your area is prone to severe weather conditions and you have mobility issues, a dog is only a viable option if you have a yard or a friend who can walk it during those cold, frosty nights.

Cats sleep for up to 15 hours a day. They still need to play and expend some energy for a few hours, but if you have more than one and plenty of toys lying around, they will often entertain themselves.

If not, it‘s important to try and play with them at least once a day. This ensures they remain stimulated and prevents them from causing mischief. A mischievous dog is fairly easy to tame, but these kinds of cats like to do their own thing and require a lot more effort.

However, if you play with them regularly, give them lots of attention, and ensure they are comfortable with being stroked and cuddled from a young age, a cat will be the perfect companion. It doesn’t need to be walked, and you can choose to keep it indoors or outdoors.

Many experts recommend keeping cats indoors. If they have plenty of toys and stimulation, it can prove to be more than satisfactory for them. Cats that live indoors have a much longer lifespan, are less prone to diseases and injuries, and can’t get their deadly paws on the local wildlife.

Cats are great pets for people who like to spend their days relaxing. They are also great for de-stressing, as it’s hard to feel anxious when you have a cat cuddling into you and purring like a motorbike. However, if it’s unshakable loyalty and unconditional love that you’re looking for, as well as the occasional walks and socializing opportunities, a dog is better.

Birds and Fish

Small birds and fish can be great pets for people with mobility problems. They don’t need to be walked, are relatively cheap, and can provide some comfort. In the case of birds, they can also be great companions.

Parrots, for instance, will be your best friend for life. However, they can also live just as long as humans and if you get a chick as a senior, you could be condemning that bird to a lifetime of loneliness when you pass. It may be rehomed, but it could be years before it settles down with another owner.

Small Animals

Ferrets are often said to be great pets for people suffering from loneliness and have been used as therapy animals in the past. They will show excitement when you return home and are playful and cuddly.

Rabbits are often placed in the same category, but they can also be grumpy and grouchy animals. If you don’t take the time to play with them, hold them, and stroke them, you could have a very problematic pet on your hands.

Keeping a Pet as a Senior

A pet can make a massive difference in your life. If you’ve never had pets, it’s easy to dismiss them as messy creatures that cause chaos and give you extra chores every day.

That changes very quickly as they become a part of your family, though. It’s true that you’ll have a major responsibility, one that needs to be fed, cleaned, walked, cared for, and will increase your expenses. Regardless, you’ll have a friend for life and you can’t put a price on that.

Just remember to include your pet in your will, making sure that it has somewhere to go if you pass prematurely. It’s a morbid thought to have, but it’s an essential one, nonetheless. Ask your friends and family, see who would be willing to take your pet, and if you don’t have anyone, consider leaving them to a charity or caregiver, along with a cash sum.

It needs to be someone you trust and someone who will care for the animal. It should also be someone who actually likes animals and has a home life that will suit your beloved pet.