How to Choose the Right Pet to Provide You With Companionship as You Age
By Lindsay Engle
Aging in place can keep you in the comfort of your home, but as we age, we tend to have fewer opportunities to socialize with friends and family. Pets can provide important social and emotional support for older adults, especially when they’re living alone. But for a pet to be a positive addition to your life, it needs to be the right pet for you.
Why Get a Pet?
Pets are great companions and can provide us with many health benefits including reduced stress, lowered blood pressure and important social interactions, which can help to reduce depression. They’re wonderful to have around when you’re feeling a bit lonely, and a lively pet can offer you plenty of entertainment, too. Pets can also help to keep us active, especially when you have a dog who needs to be walked or a cat who loves to play.
If you’re thinking of adding a pet to your life, there are some important factors to consider when making sure it’s the right pet for you.
Type of Pet
The first decision you’ll need to make is the type of pet that you want. Cats and dogs are the most common, and both provide great companionship. Birds can also be popular choices. However, each of these types of pets have both their pros and cons.
Cats can be great options for older adults, since they’re a relatively low-maintenance pet. Kittens are more prone to nipping and scratching, which can make for a health risk. Generally, an adult cat may be a better choice. Remember that you’ll need to change litter boxes, but lightweight cat litter can make that task easier.
Dogs are loyal and can be wonderful companions, but you’ll need to invest time and training. Most dogs require significant exercise, and this may prove a challenge as you age. Dogs will also need to go outdoors regularly to relieve themselves.
Birds are small and easy to handle, and they can also be a low-cost pet. However, birds need to have their cages changed regularly, and they aren’t very low-maintenance pets.
Once you have an idea of the type of pet that you want, you will want to consider the next few factors.
Adopting or buying a pet is a big responsibility, and you’ll need to make sure that you’re financially able to take on and care for a pet. Not only do you need to consider the initial cost of adopting or buying the pet, but you’ll also need to think about the cost of the pet’s food and vet care.
According to the 2015-16 National Pet Owners Survey, dog owners spent an average of $879 on their dogs over the course of a year. Cats cost their owners an average of $670 per year, and birds cost $534 per year.
Keep in mind that these are just averages, too. A medical emergency can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, so you’ll always want to have an emergency fund set aside, just in case.
You may also want to consider pet insurance, which can help to reduce the cost of your pet’s veterinary care.
Personality and Temperament
A pet needs to have the right personality and temperament to become a member of your family. Think about the qualities that you want your pet to have in terms of energy, friendliness, cuddliness and more. It’s so important to be honest with yourself about what characteristics will and won’t work for your home. Chances are that you’ll want a mild-mannered, laid-back, affectionate pet.
It may be tempting to look for a younger pet so that you can share more years together, but puppies and kittens require extra care and attention, and they may not be the best fit for your home or energy level. On the other hand, when you look at adult animals, they’ll probably already be trained, and you’ll be able to get a good idea of what their personalities are like right from the start. You’ll have minimal training to worry about, and adult animals are usually more laid-back, requiring less exercise and mental stimulation than younger pets.
Carefully consider the health of any pet that you plan to add to your family. Pets with serious ongoing health issues, like food allergies or significant medical conditions, usually require frequent vet trips and even pricey maintenance treatments. Some pets need special diets, which can be more expensive.
While there’s no guaranteeing that a pet will stay healthy during their entire lifetime, choosing a healthy pet with no known conditions can save you money.
Sometimes, life situations change unexpectedly, and you may find yourself in a position where you can no longer keep your pet with you. While it’s not a situation that anyone wants to think about, it’s important to consider what you would do if a time came when you couldn’t care for your pet. Do you have a family member who could step up and take in your pet for you? Is there a good friend who could help you network to find your pet a good home? Now is the time to have those discussions with the people you would turn to; make sure they would be happy and available to help if the need ever arose.
Making Your Decision
Take your time in deciding on the pet that’s right for you. Talk the decision over with friends and family, who may have some additional insight based on your individual health, experience and living situation. Ultimately, the right pet will be a great addition to your home, and you’ll be glad that you took the time to find the right animal.