The Healing Power of Senior Pets

Active Living Profiles

With the need to maintain distance from friends and family during COVID, many people have sought to keep loneliness and isolation at bay by bringing a pet into their home. Searches for “puppy adoption” soared to an all-time high in April 2020 and remains 38% higher than this time last year. In fact, pet industry sources say that anyone hoping to adopt a purebred puppy as a holiday gift this year may be in for disappointment.

Closeup of large mixed shepherd breed old senior dog lying down in a home sleeping.People are also looking to adopt rescue dogs. Petfinder, the leading search website for rescue dogs and puppies, averaged more than 19 million visits per month from March through August 2020 – a 79% increase over 2019.

The benefits of having a pet are many. People with pets tend to be more physically fit, able to handle stress better, and happier than non-pet owners. Having a pet can help us stay calm and may even reduce blood pressure. Plus, pets provide a natural bridge to others – they’re a great conversation starter when meeting strangers on the street. They don’t offer much conversation themselves, but you can bet they’re generous listeners!

The benefits of pet ownership for older Americans are even more important. Living alone, especially during the pandemic, can make it difficult to feel connected. Isolation can lead to depression and feelings of despair. Having a furry friend to help pass the time – especially during the winter months – can make life warmer and much more pleasant. Interacting with an animal may help some people with memory recall, and having something to take care of can help take the focus off aches and pains often associated with aging.

While it may be difficult to find a puppy or kitten to adopt right now, younger animals aren’t necessarily the best choice for older adults. Senior pets may be easier to find, and easier to take care of after adoption.

When thinking about adopting a pet, consider the advantages of choosing an older animal:

  • No need for housetraining and getting up at all hours to get your pet outside.
  • Older pets are less likely to scratch furniture, chew shoes, or ruin whatever else they might find on the floor in your home.
  • Their behavior is more predictable. Like humans, older animals tend to enjoy a routine and will likely adapt more easily to your schedule.

Of course, there are challenges to pet ownership for someone of any age, and they should also be part of your consideration:

  • Are you financially able to care for a pet? Dog owners spend an average of $498 each year on food and supplies.
  • Veterinary expenses need to be considered too, and they may be higher for a senior pet.
  • Are you physically able to care for a pet? Consider the amount of activity required to walk a dog each day. A small breed dog or even a cat may be the right choice for you.
  • If you were suddenly unable to care for your pet, even temporarily, do you have someone who could step in to help?

tabby cat sitting in owner's lap.

Once you’ve determined that you’re able and ready to bring a pet into your home, it’s time to start the adoption process. Because of the tremendous interest in adopting a pet of any age, be aware that it may take some time. Rescue organizations can afford to be choosy and may require a lengthy application process, references, and perhaps even a home visit before allowing you to adopt a pet. A reputable breeder will follow similar guidelines before selling a puppy or kitten.

Be wary of buying a pet from an online marketplace like Craigslist. Stick to reputable rescue organizations to be sure your new pet will be healthy, and that you aren’t subjecting yourself to a scam.

Having a pet in your home to pass the winter months, and to enjoy when the weather warms in the spring, can add joy to your days and companionship to your nights. Explore all of your adoption options, but do give special consideration to bringing a senior pet into your home. Most senior dogs and cats available for adoption were cherished family members at one time and will likely make an invaluable contribution to your health and happiness too.