Ten Tips for Seniors Preparing for a New Pet

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According to surveys, over 75% of American households have pets. Americans spend over $75 billion on their pets for food, medical care, toys, and grooming. Pets are an integral part of most Americans’ lives.

In fact, many of the 85 million families with pets consider them part of the family. Pets can be critical to their owners’ mental health. Studies prove that people with pets are more relaxed and have improved mood. People with pets generally have a greater sense of well-being and purpose. In fact, pets for seniors who are recovering from extreme medical trauma, such as major surgery, can decrease seniors’ anxiety and depression.

Moreover, pet owners have more opportunities for socialization. Socializing with pets and other animal lovers relieves feelings of loneliness.

These emotional and mental benefits correlate directly to improved health. This is particularly true with pets for seniors. Pets for seniors bring many health benefits including:

  • Lower blood pressure. Stroking a pet and not only reduce stress and anxiety, but can actually cause blood pressure to decrease.
  • Reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels. While there is not a single explanation for this improvement, most people attribute a drop in cholesterol and triglyceride levels to the increase in opportunities for exercise that pets bring.
  • Stimulate brain activity. Playing with, and caring for pets helps to improve cognitive skills in seniors.

Making up your mind to get a new pet is a major commitment. This is doubly true when adopting pets for seniors. Due to the potential for mobility limitations, risk of damage to the senior’s home and possessions, and patience for training, puppies, kittens, and other high-maintenance animals are usually not ideal pets for seniors.

However, seniors can still avail themselves of all the health, social, and emotional benefits to pets. Here are ten tips for seniors adopting a new pet:

Engage in Some Self-Reflection

Adopting a pet is not to be taken lightly. Once you have adopted a pet, you are responsible for caring for the pet. Before adoption, you should consider how the pet will fit into your life:

  • Finances. Pets can be costly. A healthy dog or cat can cost as much as $1,000 per year for food, routine veterinary examinations, boarding, grooming, vaccines, and preventative medication, and supplies. If the pet is not healthy, the cost of medical care and medication can increase the annual cost dramatically.
  • Free time. If you work long hours, you will likely need someone else to care for the pet. Whether that responsibility is taken on by a pet sitter, friend, or family member, they have to be able to feed, exercise, and monitor the pet when you are not home.
  • Travel. Travelers should be prepared to take the pet with them or board the animal at pet or dog kennels while they are away. Traveling with pets can be rewarding and fun, but can also be costly since many pet-friendly hotels and motels charge an extra pet fee.
  • Commitment. Pets are a member of the family. You must be prepared to care for the pet around the clock, every day of the year. If that is too large of a commitment, having a pet can make both you and your animal unhappy.

Check Housing Restrictions

Some residences come with restrictions on pets you can own and keep in your home. When you rent, these restrictions would come from your landlord. If you own, these restrictions may come from your community’s homeowners association (HOA). In either case, the restrictions may limit the number, type, and size of pet you are allowed to keep in your home.

If your choice of pet falls is not restricted, make sure that you read all the rules about pet ownership and comply with any notice requirements. For example, your landlord may permit you to own a cat, as long as the cat is litter trained, kept indoors, and listed on a disclosure form. You will want to make sure you comply with any rules, since a violation could mean substantial fines or even eviction, in the case of rental properties.

Conversely, if restrictions prohibit your pet of choice, you may be able to ask for a variance from your landlord or HOA. If you are a reliable tenant or HOA member, you may be given an exception to the rules.

You should also be aware of any local ordinances or state laws about animal ownership. For example, if you really want a pet boa constrictor, you may find that your city or state has laws about boa constrictor ownership.

Research Pets

If you have been a lifelong pet owner, you may be able to rely on experience in choosing a pet. However, if you are looking at pets that you are not familiar with, you may want to engage in some pet education using resources online or at the local library.

If you have health problems, for example, you may need to narrow down the species or breed choices. For example, if you suffer from allergies, you can research non-allergenic dogs. If you are looking for a dog with a temperament and size that makes the dog unlikely to knock you over, you can research smaller, calmer dogs. If you have mobility issues, you may want to research dogs with lower daily exercise needs.

This is particularly important when buying pets for seniors. While you may be enthusiastic about the idea of a pet, your enthusiasm may turn to resentment if the pet does not meet your expectations. While there is always room for individuality, a pet’s physical and temperamental characteristics are usually consistent with the pet’s breed.

Research can also reveal any possible health problems the pet may experience as well as the pet’s life expectancy. Since puppies and kittens are usually too energetic and high-maintenance for seniors, veterinarians usually recommend adult pets for seniors. Nothing would be more disappointing, however, than having a pet experience medical difficulties or even pass away soon after adoption. Being prepared with some knowledge of the pet’s health expectations can help seniors to avoid pets prone to health problems or a short life expectancy.

Prepare for Tasks

Whether you live alone or with others, you will likely have some responsibility for taking care of the new pet. Preparing for those tasks before the pet comes home can help to smooth the transition for both you and your new pet.

For example, deciding who is responsible for exercising the pet, as well as buying a leash, harness, collar, toys, or other supplies necessary for exercising the pet, can all be accomplished before the pet comes home. This will also allow you and your pet to become acquainted with the exercise routine from the start.

Likewise, you can establish the location and schedule for feeding the pet by buying food and water dishes before the pet comes home and making sure the new pet knows where they are. Since most pets for seniors would already be house trained, you can also show your pet where to relieve themselves.

By planning out how these tasks will be accomplished, you can set out who is responsible for carrying out these tasks. To ensure the pet is properly taken care of, you may need to work around you and any roommates’ schedules so that the pet is fed, watered, cleaned, exercised, and let out to relieve itself.

Secure the Home

You should take a walk around your home to make sure that any safety hazards are removed before the pet comes home. Check each room’s window and doors to make sure they close properly and do not allow the pet to accidentally get out or, worse yet, fall out.

You should look under your sinks and cabinets to identify any poisonous substances your pet can get into. Remember that there are many pet-friendly and eco friendly pest control, cleaners, and household chemicals that are safe for your pet and the environment.

Although older pets for seniors are more likely to be house trained, every pet has an occasional accident. By having your carpets treated to resist stains and odors, you may be able to simplify carpet cleaning in the event of an accident.

Secure the Yard

If you have a fenced yard, you may be complacent about letting your pet out to wander around. However, you will want to secure any safety hazards in your yard before bringing your pet home. Check your fence for any gaps and make sure your fence closes completely so that your pet cannot escape.

Similarly, secure any poisons, including insecticides, pesticides, antifreeze, or other chemicals that you have stored in your yard, garage, or shed. In searching for poisons, make sure you look at the plants in your yard. Some landscape plants, such as lilies, sago palm, tulips, azaleas, oleanders, chrysanthemum, and English ivy, are poisonous to pets. If you have any questions about the effect plants might have on pets, research them online or at a local garden center.

Prepare Space for the Pet

Many pets are creatures of habit. Create a space for your pet and establish early on that the space belongs to your pet. Dogs, for example, are instinctively den animals. Buying your dog a crate will take advantage of the dog’s natural instincts and make it easier to train the dog to treat the dog crate as its space. If you do not want to crate train your pet, you can do the same thing with a pet bed.

You should also decide what areas of the house will be off-limits to the pet and determine what you need to do to keep the pet out of the area. In fact, when choosing pets for seniors, you may want to choose pets that will not destroy your home or possessions rather than trying to keep the pets away from your possessions and the areas of your home you keep them in.

A cat, for example, will be attracted to a sunroom or sunny patio. If you want the cat to stay away from those areas, you will need to train the pet. There are some pet repellent chemicals that can help with this training. These chemicals smell bad to pets and, with positive reinforcement, will persuade a pet to stay away from the areas sprayed.

For larger pets, like dogs, pet gates or other obstacles can also impede pets from going into areas you do not want the pets in. Again, obstacles and training can help to keep larger pets out of areas where they are not welcome.

Buy Food

You may need to experiment a bit to find a food that contains the nutrients the pet needs and is appealing to the pet. Pets for seniors are usually older and have already developed preferences. Speaking to the pet’s prior owner can help you to identify the food that the pet likes.

If you do not have access to the pet’s prior owner, you should buy smaller bags of food in case your pet does not like the flavor or texture of the food. In some cases, you may even be able to get food samples from pet stores that you can use to test out your pet’s tastes and preferences.

Introduce Your Pet to Your Home

Consistency from day one is the way to ensure that you do not have behavior problems later on. If you bring the pet home and immediately let the pet sleep on the bed, you will have difficulty later on telling the pet not to sleep on the bed.

Similarly, if you are inconsistent with how often and where you take the pet outside to relieve itself, you risk confusing the pet. This confusion can lead to pet accidents.

Get a Veterinarian and Schedule an Exam

Choosing a veterinarian can be as consequential as choosing your doctor. You will want to talk to friends, neighbors, and co-workers about their experiences with veterinarians to find one with a personality and practice that you like. Veterinarians also have greater variation in their fees because pet insurance is so rare. That is, if pet insurance were more common, you would have a consistent co-pay rather than a different fee for each veterinarian.

Veterinarians recommend that young and senior pets have checkups twice per year. Adult pets usually only require one checkup per year. During the checkup, the veterinarian will discuss any problems your pet may be having, update any vaccines that are due, and examine the pet. The veterinarian may also prescribe a course of preventative treatments, such as anti-parasite medications and flea and tick repellents.

This may also be a time to raise any behavioral issues with your veterinarian. Some behavioral issues may have a medical cause. Other behavioral issues may require training. In either case, your veterinarian may be able to recommend some measures for helping the pet through behavioral issues.

With a little bit of preparation and research, you can find the ideal pets for seniors. Once you find the right pet, prepare for your pet by securing your home and yard, preparing yourself and your pet for living together, and buying the food and supplies your pet will need. Also, put some thought into how you will keep your pet in their space. Finally, make arrangements to care for the pet’s health by finding a veterinarian.

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