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Pets & Seniors: Choosing a Companion that Fits Your Lifestyle

senior woman holding puppy

Some of the most tangible joys in life can come from the physical affection that pets display for their owners. Positive, mood-boosting benefits accompany these moments, which can include coming home to hear the excited yelps of a dog or sitting down on the couch with a cat purring contentedly nearby. Pets such as dogs and cats have the ability to offer a sense of unconditional love, and others including birds and fish also bring sound, life, and movement to a home.

Pet Ownership: Benefits and Considerations

Besides offering a physical connection with another living being, pet ownership is also beneficial for seniors who may be looking for a renewed sense of purpose. Caring for a pet can offer you those opportunities to extend care, love, and protection for an animal that can’t care for itself. Pet owners may also experience health benefits from these interactions such as lowered blood pressure and stress levels, reduced boredom, increased social interaction, and increased opportunities for exercise.

Despite these physical and psychological benefits, pet ownership also comes with a great deal of responsibility. If you are considering whether or not to become a pet owner, take into account the following key considerations:

Physical Fitness:

Caring for an animal requires you to be physically fit enough to give it the care it needs. Different pets need different levels of exercise and physical interaction, and young animals--such as puppies and kittens--require higher levels of attention. Be honest with yourself when deciding whether or not you can commit to walking a dog multiple times a day; if not, choose a pet that requires less physically-demanding care such as a bird or fish.

Budget:

Pets will add to your food and health care expenditures, so do some background research associated with the costs of caring for different types of pets. As a pet owner, you might also want to buy pet-specific toys and gear, including leashes, collars, or aquariums, so be sure to research these essential start-up costs as well.

Reserve Resources:

While you need to consider yourself the primary caretaker of your pet, also take stock of your back-up resources. Do you have friends or family members who will be willing to help out with pet care if you go on vacation or become ill? Make sure that you have ample reserve resources to offer your pet the best care possible.

A Pet for Your Lifestyle

Now that you’ve considered a few basics that apply to pet ownership, in general, now it’s time to narrow your focus and take into account how different types of pets may or may not fit with your lifestyle. Use this overview of basic responsibilities and considerations to spark further interest into specific breeds or types of pets that fall within the general category that best suites your lifestyle.

Dogs:

Dogs are a great pet choice for you if you enjoy an active lifestyle, as most dogs need to be walked outside a minimum of two times a day. In this way, choosing a dog as a pet can help inspire your own outdoor activity. But be realistic: If daily exercise is not already a part of your routine, then consider choosing a breed of dog that has a lower energy level and therefore less of a demand for exercise. Instinctually, however, dogs need time each day to go outside, sniff around, and explore. As a dog owner, you need to be physically fit enough to provide your pet the exercise it needs.

In addition to regular exercise, dogs will rely on you daily to take care of their food, water, and other health needs. Depending on the breed, dogs need to be fed once or twice a day. Some dogs will graze on their food throughout the day while others will eat it all in one big gulp. Factor the size and type of dog into your food budget when considering the financial aspects of having a pet.

While puppies are endearing, remember that they have a higher energy level and will need greater supervision and more initial training. As the owner of a puppy or an adult dog acquired elsewhere, look into training opportunities that can help you establish good management styles and control of your dog. A large dog breed that pulls on a leash will need a strong and physically able owner, and even the best-behaved dogs do sometimes lack self-control, so also factor training into your schedule as a dog owner. If you are able to commit to the physical and mental demands of dog ownership, they you’ll likely experience the rewards of a loyal and affectionate companion.  

Cats:

Cats are fascinating animals with soft fur, agile bodies, and lively temperaments. Plus, they offer companionship in the day’s more relaxed moments, curling up next to you and purring with delight at your touch. Cats are a good pet choice for owners who are able to care for a pet that needs regular food and water replenishment as well as some playtime activity. But because cats can use the bathroom indoors in a litter box, they don’t need to be taken outside multiple times a day for that purpose. A litter box, however, needs to be cleared daily of solid waste and cleaned on a weekly schedule.  

Unlike dogs, domesticated housecats don’t need physical exercise in the form of outdoor walks, but they do thrive on indoor play activities and need daily physical activity to stay healthy. Toys made specifically for cats can help you engage your cat in playtime, which will help keep up your pet’s muscle tone as well as promote a healthy weight. Plus, playing with your cat is fun for you, too, and it’s a good way to bond with your pet.

Be aware: Cats have an instinct and a need to scratch, so unless you want your furniture to get shredded, provide a scratching post or scratching pads for your cat. Since cats are relatively small in size, you do not need to possess a great deal of physical strength or fitness to take good care of a cat. But you do need to be physically and mentally fit in order to look after a cat’s daily needs. The effort you put into caring for a cat will be rewarded as you discover a constant and loving presence in your home.

Birds:

If you love birdsongs and melodic chirping, then choosing a bird as a pet will be a great option to liven up your home. Parrots, canaries, and finches are common choices for pets, and while some birds will interact with humans in a chatty way with their own singsong voices, other breeds can be trained to mimic human speech.

In general, birds are relatively low-maintenance pets that can live in cages or larger aviaries depending on their type and size. Birds do need out-of-cage time and the space to fly, so consider this need and your available space as well as your willingness to clean up bird droppings from around your home. As a bird owner, you will need to be able to clean droppings from at least the bird’s cage each day and provide regular food and water.

Birds are social creatures and enjoy engaging in play activity. Different breeds have different needs for exercise and play, but all birds invite a sense of connection and investment from their owners. With sounds and a social presence, birds will add a happy presence to a room, as well as adding color, motion, and interest. Birds are also highly intelligent and have specialized needs depending on their type, so be sure to research specialized care tips for the type of bird you are considering as a pet.

Fish:

Fish invite a sense of relaxation with their smooth swimming motions and beautiful colors. While fish aren’t the most social of pets, they will engage you with their movement patterns and presence. A fish is a good pet choice for you if you would like to have a low-maintenance pet that doesn’t need regular exercise or dedicated playtime.

Daily fish care tasks include feeding, providing necessary lighting, and monitoring water temperature and quality. As a fish owner, be prepared for some equipment care, as fish tanks require regular cleaning and maintenance. Coldwater fist are recommended for new fish owners since they’re easier to care for, and their tanks to not require heaters. Despite adding some tank maintenance tasks to your schedule, fish are calming and affordable as well as a great way to enjoy the natural world within your home.

Summary

When deciding whether or not pet ownership is right for you, take extra time to consult with other pet owners as well as community experts. You’ll find that local pet stores and local pet adoption centers such as the Humane Society can offer advice and answers to your specific questions. If you do decide that becoming a pet owner is a good fit for your lifestyle, then look forward to the positive benefits you’ll likely experience in the years to come. 

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