Advice Assisted Living

I Need Advice on Searching For a Good Pet for a Senior

Woman holding dog

Dear Benchmark,

Since my father’s death last winter, my mom is on her own for the first time. She lives in a condominium community that is home to many single seniors. But I know she is still lonely. My husband and I thought she might enjoy having a pet!

We always had dogs and cats when we were growing up, and I know my parents loved them as much as my siblings and I did. While my mother is still fairly active, I’m not sure she could keep up with a puppy or a kitten.

And since my mom is starting to talk more about moving to a retirement community, we want to make sure whatever pet we chose will be able to make a move with her. We’d hate for her to fall in love with a furry friend only to have to give them up in a year or so if she moves to a senior living community.

Because I’m sure this issue has come up with families you’ve worked with before, I was hoping you might have some good advice for us?

Kind Regards,


Exploring the Health Benefits of Pets for a Senior Loved One

Dear Karon:

First, please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. I’m sure you and your mother are both still grieving his passing.

As you may already know, pets are often used in hospice programs to help adults who face a life-limiting illness and their families cope. These furry therapists are also a common sight in Alzheimer’s programs because of their ability to connect with people who have memory loss.

The health benefits a pet can provide are well documented. When a senior welcomes a dog in to their life, they are often more motivated to take a daily walk or two. Walking helps older adults reduce stress, lower blood pressure, manage weight and improve overall health.

Taking a pet for a stroll also makes it easier for seniors to socialize with friends and neighbors they encounter. This is linked to lower rates of stress and depression.

Then there is the sense of purpose having a pet provides to an older adult. Having someone to care for again gives seniors the structure they might be missing now that their children are on their own and they have retired from their job.

So how do you go about finding the right pet?

Here is some advice to consider when you are searching for a pet for your mother.

First, think about your mom’s budget. Can she afford the vet bills a pet will no doubt incur? The food expenses? And for some breeds of dogs and cats, a monthly trip to the groomer is also necessary.

Next, instead of opting for a puppy or kitten, think about adopting a senior pet. Shelters often have many older dogs and cats that are looking for a good home. They are more likely to be housebroken or litter box trained, and easier for a senior to manage.

And then there are other considerations depending upon what type of pet you choose:

• Dog Lovers: A canine companion can be a great friend to a senior. It’s important to consider the size, temperament and maintenance needs of the dog. If your mother does move to a senior living community, many community’s pet policies have size restrictions for dogs. Small breeds like a Poodle, Yorkshire Terrier or Maltese may be best.

• Feline Companions: Cats make a great pet for seniors because they tend to be lower maintenance and need less grooming. And cats are often well-suited for life indoors in smaller spaces like the condominium your mom lives in or the senior living apartment she is considering. The Cat Fancier’s Association has a Breed Personality Chart you might find helpful in evaluating what type of cat would be a good fit for your mom.

• Feathered Friends: If a cat or dog seems like a little too much work for your mother, consider a bird. Birds often have sunny personalities that make them surprisingly good companions for seniors! Canaries are known as the songbirds of the Finch family. Other types of finches like the Zebra Finch or the Warbler are quieter but still entertaining. And bird watching has been shown to have a calming effect on people of all ages, including adults Alzheimer’s disease.

I hope this helps, Karon!

Assisted Living, Independent Living
Creating a Plan