Advice Assisted Living

Help Us Learn More About Pets and Seniors

Woman holding dog

Dear Benchmark,

I am the Executive Director of a senior center. Many of the older adults who are our “regulars” have been coming to the center for many years. Over the fall and winter months, we had what seems like an unusually high number of them suffer the loss of a spouse.

Because of this, we’ve recently decided to add more bereavement support programs to our monthly activities. At least for the next year or so. We are especially interested in learning more about pets and seniors, so we can create a program for our members. We would also like to know more about the benefits having a pet offers older adults, how to choose a pet when you are a senior and where to search for a pet.

Do you have any suggestions for putting this program together?


Helping Seniors and Pets Make a Connection

Dear Nedra:

What an interesting idea for a program! I’m sure it is one that will be well received by your group.

Pets make loyal companions and can help fill a void after the loss of a loved one. Seniors who have a furry friend enjoy many health benefits including:

• A sense of purpose that often translates to an older adult taking better care of themselves because they know their pet is counting on them.
• Improves the likelihood a senior will stay active either by playing with a cat every morning or taking the dog for a daily walk.
• Better chance the older adult will socialize more, whether it is by taking the cat to be groomed and talking with other cat lovers or visiting the local dog park each day.
• Lower rates of loneliness, stress and depression because they have a friend in the house to talk to.

But there is a lot to consider before a senior makes a commitment to bringing a pet home. Here are a few factors you will want to share with your group:

Exercise: Dogs need to get out to stretch their legs (and take care of business!) a few times a day. Does the senior have mobility issues that could make this challenging or even put them at risk for a fall? By contrast, most cats are perfectly content living indoors.
Budget: Some breeds of cats and dogs are higher maintenance than others. From veterinary bills to special diets and frequent grooming, the expenses associated with owning a pet can add up quickly.
Space: Another thing to consider is space. Does the senior live in a private home and plan to remain there? Or will they be moving to a senior living community in the near future? While some breeds of dogs like Golden Retrievers have great temperaments that make them an ideal dog for a senior, they also need a lot of space! (Benchmark’s pet policy)

As far as where to search for a pet, there are several options older adults can explore. One is a local pet shelter. Another is to contact trusted veterinarians in their community. Both of these groups can help seniors connect with a pet that needs a home.

My final tip is to encourage your senior center members to adopt an older pet. Many senior animals are passed over in favor of puppies and younger pets at area shelters. But older cats and dogs make great companions for older adults!

Best of luck putting your program together, Nedra!

Assisted Living, Independent Living
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