The Best Pets for Seniors
by Robyn Tellefsen
Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, a bird person or a fish person, there’s a pet for every personality. Pets can be an excellent investment for people of all ages – particularly for seniors seeking companionship.
But which pet is right for you? With the help of Suzette Brown, author of Alzheimer’s: Through My Mother’s Eyes and owner of Flower, a certified therapy dog, we break down the primary senior pet options.
Dogs for Seniors
Pros: Love, comfort, and companionship are some of the biggest benefits of owning a dog, says Brown. “The right dog provides both the owner and the dog years of happiness together.” Plus, dogs can warn you when someone is at the door, or if the person you meet is of questionable character, she says. And, of course, dog-walking is a great way to keep seniors moving.
Cons: Breeds like Border Collies, which require a great deal of exercise, would not be a good fit for seniors, says Brown. “If the senior is not mobile and the dog is housebound day after day, it will cause a great deal of anxiety for the dog. Behavior problems could ensue.” The best dogs for seniors are those that are compatible with their lifestyle: Brown recommends smaller dogs.
Cost: Costs vary depending on breed and location. “If the senior wants a certain breed (such as a poodle, Labrador, or beagle), these dogs can get quite expensive – particularly if they are American Kennel Club registered animals,” says Brown. She “lucked out” by purchasing her German shepherd puppy, Jax, from a breeder for $350. Another great place to buy a dog is a rescue organization; the cost of Brown’s rescue dog was about $250, which included neutering, shots, and care. Take a look at this helpful chart from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to anticipate the annual costs of pet care.
Fun fact: “There are many shelters that have senior dogs looking for a loving home to live out the last few years of their lives,” says Brown. “The shelter dogs are grateful to be given a chance with a loving and caring family.”
Cats for Seniors
Pros: Cats are low-maintenance pets and can be wonderful companions for seniors, says Brown. “Cats are independent creatures, but they can become very attached to their owners. They are easy to take care of and are always open to a warm lap. The soft whirr of their purring is a joyful noise that lets seniors know they are not alone in their home.”
Cons: “The biggest concern is the sanitary cleaning of the litter box and making sure the litter box is located in a bathroom that is accessible to the cat,” says Brown. Plus, some cats shed considerably, which could be a problem for allergy sufferers.
Cost: Cat rescues as well as SPCA rescues offer low-cost options for a feline companion. According to CostHelper.com, adopting a cat from a shelter usually costs between $50 and $100, while buying a cat from a breeder usually costs between $300 and $1,200, depending on the breed and color.
Fun fact: Sometimes cats have all the wonderful traits of dogs. In fact, Brown says that her cat, who lived for about 16 years, was more like a small dog than a cat. “Sniffles followed me everywhere and kept track of my movements. He knew when I was upset, tired, or frustrated. He would come and lay right beside me and offer me his paw. He was a wonderful companion while I lived in an apartment.”
Birds for Seniors
Pros: Because I’m allergic to cats and dogs, birds are the perfect pets for my family. Our parakeets have brought songs, companionship, and playfulness to our home. At my grandmother’s nursing home, a lovebird graces the rec room, providing beauty and stimulation for residents. I often marvel at the unbelievably intricate details of our feathered friends.
Cons: Though birds are fairly low maintenance, if you let them fly out of the cage, you have to be diligent about cleaning up their droppings around the house. Larger birds like parrots tend to be louder, so if you’re put off by all the chatter, a smaller bird like a parakeet would be a better fit.
Cost: Birds typically cost more than fish but less than cats and dogs. We paid $20 for our parakeet at the pet store, and the cost of food is minimal. According to CostHelper.com, finches usually cost between $10 and $35, canaries typically run between $40 and $125, and larger birds cost several hundred dollars.
Fun fact: According to the children’s book Bird, the most talkative bird in the world is the African gray parrot. While most species of parrots can learn about 50 words, the African gray parrot can say more than 800 words.
Fish for Seniors
Pros: “Fish are beautiful to watch in their habitat,” says Brown. “They bring a sense of calmness as their motions are exhibited in swimming. They are fairly easy to take care of, and there are many stunning varieties to choose from.”
Cons: “I got tired of cleaning out the fish bowl,” admits Brown. “They are self-contained pets, but they still have needs.” Plus, she points out that fish don’t live very long, and you have to be careful to match your fish correctly so they maintain a balance in the tank. For example, one betta fish is OK, but if you put two or more together, they will fight and literally kill each other.
Cost: Basic freshwater fish like goldfish, guppies, and bettas are very inexpensive – less than $10 each, reports CostHelper.com. Fancier saltwater fish like clownfish, yellow tang, and blue tang cost more ($15 to $80), but they may also live longer and provide more enjoyment for the owner.
Fun fact: Speaking of clownfish, did you know that they can change their sex? According to Fishes: The Animal Answer Guide, anemone fish live in groups where only the two largest fish are sexually mature – the largest is female and the next largest is male. If the female dies, the male changes sex to female, and the next largest fish in the group matures to male. So if “Finding Nemo” had stuck to the facts of nature, Nemo’s dad, Marlin, would have become Nemo’s mom after his original mother was eaten by a barracuda. Fascinating, right?
No matter which pet you choose, the benefits of furry, feathery, or scaly companionship cannot be overstated.
“It is delightful to come home to loving animals who miss you when you are gone,” says Brown. “Kisses and cries of being missed melt my heart.”
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