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The right pet can bring unbridled happiness to retirees

It was the French author mononymously known as Colette who famously wrote, ‘our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet’. Pets do bring enormous happiness to retirees. But it’s critical to get a pet that suits the retirees’ lifestyle, budget and physical well-being.

Pets are well known to provide good health and well-being outcomes for seniors. Research by the National Library of Medicine in the US found that the “positive subjective feelings that people have toward animals, together with growing evidence of a potential role in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, may motivate their continued use of therapy and ownership.”

However, as the report also notes, it’s important to find the right pet. A big, powerful dog is a poor choice for a senior who has lost muscle strength or is prone to stumbling. A loud animal is a bad idea for someone suffering from tinnitus and hyperacusis, and so on. So, it’s important to find the right pet for a person’s circumstances. By following some basic best practices, it’s easy to narrow the many candidates down to find the right furry friend.

Consider the size and needs of the animal:

  • Some retirees will find a powerful dog challenging. On the other hand, a rabbit or fish, which is in need of constant care, might not be a great choice for someone who has memory issues.

    Fortunately, there will always be an alternative. Smaller dog breeds, as well as cats, birds and rabbits, can all make excellent companions for people who have mobility issues. These animals often require less physical exertion from their owners. Meanwhile, cats are a great choice for those who need a pet that can be independent. Rabbits and fish are great options for people with extreme mobility issues.


    Owning a pet comes with financial responsibilities. There is an obvious need to feed and groom the animal, but the real consideration that seniors need to account for is the cost of veterinary care. It can be incredibly expensive to take a pet to a vet, and many seniors have limited financial means. For some pets there are now insurance opportunities – particularly with dogs and cats – but be aware that more exotic animals often don’t have those options and need to be taken to specialists. Treating a bird or rabbit is generally going to be more expensive than a cat or dog.

    Planning for the future:

    Another important element of planning that you need to consider before adopting a pet is the long-term implications. Most animals have lifespans of 10 years or longer (smaller dogs typically live longer than big dogs), and seniors need to consider what that means should they experience health or accommodation issues and whether they can access pet welfare support if they become unable to care for the animal full-time. For those that are concerned about what their health and situation might be in more than a decade, an animal with a shorter lifespan, such as a smaller bird (most of which have lifespans of five-10 years) or mice might be a better option.

    Does the pet have health issues?

    Seniors are more susceptible to health concerns, so it’s important that, before bringing a pet into their home, you assess any allergies or health risks that it might introduce into your home. Some individuals may be allergic to certain animals – fur is a common cause of allergic reactions – and other pets are susceptible to diseases that they can pass on to humans.

    However, there will be alternative options – many animals don’t have fur that they shed, so consult with a healthcare professional to understand what options you might have.

    Where to buy a pet:

    With pet stores in decline (at least, for the purchase of pets – most stores focus on supplies as regulation around pet retailing has tightened considerably), there are two primary sources for pet adoption. The first is breeders. The benefit here is that with a good breeder, you can be sure of your pet’s bloodline and health. However, buying from a breeder can be enormously expensive.

    A much cheaper option is to adopt from a shelter or rescue group. This has the added benefit that you’re giving an innocent animal a second chance at life, and you’ll be supporting a charity in the process.

    Pet ownership is so important to seniors. It provides companionship and positive physical outcomes. It’s just more important for seniors to find the right pet that will match their lifestyle, a major decision that needs to be weighed carefully.

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