Pets for Seniors: Care for Older People and Their Pets

home help for the elderly home assistance affordable home care companies non medical senior care for older people senior citizen care in home help for seniors help for senior caregiversThere is much scientific and anecdotal evidence to support the health benefits of pet ownership. According to Lynette Hart, Ph.D., studies have demonstrated that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home. Additionally, WebMD reports of one study where people having either a cat or a dog had lower blood pressure readings. Playing with a pet can also elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are nerve transmitters with calming properties. Having a pet can also be good for the heart; studies reported on WebMD show that heart attack survivors with pets live longer than those without.

Pets also offer a unique brand of companionship—acceptance, friendship, and support. As seniors age, they often find themselves with less social support as their friends die or move away to facilities or to live with family. Furthermore, losing the ability to drive can become socially isolating. Having a four-legged companion can bring joy and comfort in an otherwise lonely world. 

When getting a pet, there are many considerations, such as animal breed and personality. Additionally, it’s important to remember that a pet is not a utility object, like a shower chair or a walker. It’s important for families to plan ahead for emergencies that affect their aging loved one’s beloved pets. 


What age of animal should grandma get? 

Look for an animal whose age is appropriate for an aging owner. Although kittens and puppies are cute, they are also bundles of nonstop energy. Kitten can easily get underfoot and become a fall hazard. Puppies needs lots of walks and the ability to go outside in a moment’s notice. Furthermore, cats can live over sixteen years, and dogs can live up to nine or more years. Look for a pet whose life expectancy might match that of your aging loved one. Perhaps a calm twelve-year-old lap cat who sleeps a lot would be a better fit for your 84-year-old mother than a high-energy kitten who will live another sixteen or more years. 


What if grandpa can’t afford veterinary care? 

The website for the Humane Society of the United States offers a list of resources for owners having trouble affording pet care. The website lists a number of national organizations, as well as assistance by state. 


elder care in Minnesota eldercare at home help for the elderly home care service at home caregivers home care in Minnesota taking care of elderly parentsWhen grandpa goes into the hospital unexpectedly, who will take care of his pet? 

It is better to plan ahead for an emergency than to respond in crisis. Seniors should be guided into creating a plan for the care of pets in the event of a health emergency. If a senior is in the hospital for a day or two, having someone available to scoop the litter box and feed the cat or walk the dog can be enough. However, in the event of an extended stay of three or more days, it’s important that a plan be in place to meet the animal’s physical and emotional needs. Perhaps a neighbor can have a key or a family member can be on call to get the pet while the owner recovers in the hospital or a transitional care facility.  


What happens when mom’s dementia progresses so much that she cannot take care of her pet? 

We once had a client with Alzheimer’s who couldn’t remember feeding her pets. As a result, she was feeding them so much, they were vomiting excess food. We worked with the family so that our at-home caregivers locked up the pet food and took responsibility for feeding and watering the animals every morning and evening. Being a caregiver for someone with dementia also means caring for the beloved pet who keeps them company. Ensure a plan is in place so that the pet’s needs are met when mom is no longer able to ensure it happens herself. 


in home help for seniors home assistance private pay home care in Minnesota elderly home care service affordable home care services for seniorsWhat happens when dad has to move into a facility? 

There are many people who refuse to leave their homes long after it is safe for them to live there because they love their cat or their dog. This puts the senior’s well-being at risk. Fortunately, there are nursing homes and assisted living facilities that allow residents to have pets! It just takes a little extra work on behalf of the family member or social worker to find a facility that is pet-friendly. 


When grandma dies, what will happen to her beloved pet? 

If the senior is not able to make an adoption transition plan, it’s important for the family to create one so that a healthy pet isn’t unnecessarily euthanized. For the pet’s well-being, consider introducing potential new owners while grandma is still living to make it an easier transition for the pet should the animal outlive the owner. If there is a need to bring the pet to a shelter to find a new home, the No Kill Network offers a list of no kill shelters around the country at


For a pet lover, the care and well-being of their cat, dog, or bird is top priority. Although pets provide important companionship and health benefits to seniors, it’s also important to keep in mind their health and well-being. Taking care of elderly parents also means caring for their beloved pets.  

Jim Miles, M.B.A.

July 21, 2016


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