There’s nothing quite like coming home and being greeted by a pet who’s thrilled to see you. Whether you’ve been gone for 10 minutes or 10 days, a loyal pup or cat will be delighted by your arrival. In addition to providing unconditional love, a pet can come with health benefits for seniors. Having dogs and cats as pets is linked to increased happiness and reduced loneliness. Pets also provide opportunities for socialization and exercise. Walking your pet regularly can help you keep up with your neighbors and your fitness goals. Pet ownership may also help lower stress, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Many people see their beloved pets as irreplaceable members of the family. And while owning a pet can be fulfilling, it’s also a big responsibility. It can even be downright challenging if you have mobility or health issues, for instance. Here are some things to think about before you adopt a furry friend:
1. Your physical abilities
Caring for an animal requires strength, energy and agility.Like humans, animals need exercise. A dog may require several walks a day, or a cat may need playtime each evening. Pets may need to be walked in all types of weather, including cold, heat, rain and snow. Consider other physical pet care duties, too. Are you able to clean out a litter box or bend down to pick up pet waste? Can you control a large or strong dog on a leash? If you have stability challenges, a pet can be a tripping hazard. Or a hyper animal may jump on you and knock you over. This can lead to falls and broken bones.
2. Your health
Pet urine, dander or saliva can cause allergic reactions in some people. Even though certain kinds of dogs and cats shed less than others, and are sometimes called “hypoallergenic”, you can still have allergies to these types of animals. No dog or cat breed is truly hypoallergenic. You’re more likely to be allergic to animals if you have asthma or other allergies. In fact, some people have asthma that’s triggered by pet allergens. If you have this type of asthma, breathing in animal allergens can make your respiratory symptoms worse. About three in 10 people with allergies are also allergic to dogs or cats.
While humans are much more likely to get sick from other people than animals, know that pets can carry germs that can be shared with people. The chance of getting an infection or disease from a pet is relatively low, but it is still wise to talk with your family doctor or veterinarian about which type of pet may be safest for you. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems, such as those receiving chemotherapy, need to take extra precautions when handling a pet. To protect yourself from pet-related infectious diseases, take your pet to the veterinarian as often as suggested so they stay in good health. Practice good hygiene habits when around your pet, such as washing your hands after picking up pet waste.
3. The time and resources a pet needs
Pets require constant care for a long time. On average, dogs live 10 to 15 years, indoor cats live about 14 years and outdoor cats live around seven years. Along with being physically able to meet your pet’s needs, make sure you’re mentally able to care for an animal, too. You’ll need to remember to shop for their food, feed them, groom them, give them medication and keep up with veterinarian visits. Pets are also pricey. The average pet owner spends $500 to$1,600 per year on pet expenses.
Animals can be great companions for seniors, offering unconditional love and potential health benefits. However, owning a dog or cat is a lot of work. If you’ve decided a pet is right for you, research different breeds. Choose one with an activity level and personality that fits your lifestyle. Consider adopting an older animal rather than a puppy or a kitten. Younger pets can take a lot of time and energy to train. If you love animals but cannot commit to owning your own, look into volunteering. Ask about local animal shelters about volunteer opportunities or foster programs.