Cuddly Companions

By Kristen Castillo

August 18, 2014 5 min read

Dogs are full of activity, and cats are great companions, but which is a better pet for a senior citizen? It all depends on the individual.

In a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of U.S. households have a pet, with cats, dogs and freshwater fish being the most popular pets.

While it doesn't necessarily matter which specific pet a senior has in his or her life, it is important to know the affect a pet can have in an owner's life.

"Research tells us that companion animals reduce depression, lower blood pressure, ease loneliness, increase physical activity and provide serenity, especially to seniors living alone," says Kellie Benz, marketing and communications manager for PAWS in Washington state, a nonprofit that shelters and adopts homeless cats and dogs as well as rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife.

*Older Pets

It might seem like a good idea to pair a young animal, such as a kitten or a puppy with a senior, but that's the wrong approach, according to animal experts.

"Seniors for seniors" is the way to go, says Kristi Littrell, adoption manager at Best Friends Animal Society, a national animal welfare organization that has adoption centers in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.

PAWS has a Seniors for Seniors adoption program which places senior cats and dogs that are typically seven years or older with seniors over age 60.

Senior animals have many advantages typically including being house-trained, not too rambunctious and an even temperament. Even if a pet has health problems, seniors often relate.

"One of my favorite memories is of an elderly woman who was meeting several cats with the idea of adopting one of them," says Littrell. "I told her one of the senior cats she was considering had arthritis and she said 'Oh, that's OK, I have arthritis, too.' They suited each other perfectly and it was a great adoption."

Littrell knows first hand how great senior pets can be. She cared for a 20-year-old cat for three years following the cat's owner's death, and she took care of a 14-year-old dog with kidney failure that lived for 18 months beyond its one-month life expectancy.

"So the moral of the story is never discount senior pets or senior citizens," she says. "Even if they have some physical challenges, there is still a lot of life and love in them.

*Factors to Consider

Before adopting a pet, seniors need to consider what's involved, such as the pet's size and activity levels, as well as feeding and grooming costs.

"Consider the pet who best suits your lifestyle," says Benz, who explains an adoption advisor should review these factors prior to adoption.

While fish and small pets such as gerbils or rabbits can be entertaining and somewhat low-maintenance, seniors do well with dogs and cats.

Active seniors pair well with adult dogs that enjoy daily walks and regular car rides.

"Adult cats are ideal for anyone seeking companionship but not interested in an active lifestyle," says Benz, noting that cats love sitting in front of sunny windows, "curling up on the couch with a good book" and "keeping a lap warm while watching the evening news."

*Pet-Sitting

Seniors who can't commit to owning a pet full time can still benefit from time with an animal. Websites such as Rover.com connect pet owners with pet sitters, including seniors who want to enjoy socializing with dogs on a flexible schedule.

"Traveling dog owners can feel comfortable knowing their pooch is in the caring hands of an elderly person, getting individual attention, and a willing senior can get the benefits of dog friendship at their own convenience," says Pete Bahrenburg, a spokesman for Rover.

The pet-sitting site doesn't include any fees or time minimums, plus there's around-the-clock customer service. "They just sign up and decide when they want a loving pup to join them at their house for a play date," says Bahrenburg.

Whether they're spending time with their own pet or simply pet sitting, seniors will thrive on the interaction and the fun. After all, as Littrell explains, “senior pets have no lack of personality."

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