Hillary Hart, D.V.M 
Vet with Hart Veterinary
House Call Practice LLC


Pet Adoption for Seniors

I was asked by Caroline Gerard, from the National Council for Aging to share this article regarding Pet Adoption for Seniors. To read the complete article go to: www.aginginplace.org/seniors-and-pets/

Are you wondering how you are going to care for your pet or if you should adopt a pet as you age? This guide will help you decide on the best choice for you. Studies have shown that owning a pet can be physically and mentally beneficial for people of all ages. In the case of senior citizens, just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.

If you are mostly immobile, a cat may be the best option because you don’t have to walk them. A small dog that uses pee pads may also be a good option. Senior dogs and cats are better for the elderly because they are more calm, quiet, and less maintenance. It is important to make sure you have the funds to adopt a pet. Be sure to have the pet checked out by a veterinarian. A pre-existing illness or disease could drain your bank account.

Those who work caring for the elderly say that pets pull withdrawn seniors out of their shell, provide mild activity and cardio through walking and grooming the pet, and offer a way to feel needed and connect with the world. Pet therapy can also help with Alzheimer’s Sundowners Syndrome. Nighttime can be very confusing and disorienting for folks with Alzheimer’s disease. This is when some Alzheimer’s patients try to run away or leave their home. A pet can prevent this issue by keeping those with Alzheimer’s connected and occupied.

Animals’ non-verbal communication and profound acceptance can be soothing for those with difficulty using language; some may even connect with memories of their own treasured pets. Pet therapy has shown to improve appetite, social interaction, brain stimulation, and tactile activity. The unconditional love of a dog brings healing and meaning to a sometimes lonely stage in life. There are pet therapy home visit services all over the country such as the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and Therapy Dogs International. A local volunteer will come to your home and

bring a trained service dog that is very well-behaved. The dog can play, cuddle, and perform commands during a half hour or one hour session.

For seniors with disabilities, a service dog might be the best option. Service dogs go through extensive training to remain calm and help their owner with mobility issues. Service dog skills include: opening doors with a strap, pushing doors closed, helping their handler dress and undress, helping those in wheelchairs sit up straight & place feet and arms on footrests and armrests, preventing falls, retrieving wheelchairs and walkers, performing life-saving tasks, like retrieving medication or dropped objects, calling 911, opening the door for EMT and first responders, running to get help or barking for help after identifying an emergency, laying down on their handler’s chest to help them cough or breath better.

What you don’t hear about very often are the dangers of owning a pet as a senior citizen. Over 86,000 people per year have to go to the emergency room because of falls involving their dogs and cats, and these fractures can be devastating for the elderly. You know yourself better than anyone, so be honest about whether keeping your pet or adopting one is a good idea or not. Create a pros and cons list. Is your mobility good enough to not fall when picking up a dog that is running circles around you? Is it hard for you to bend down to their level to clean up after a cat or dog? Asking a loved one or volunteer agency to take care of the more physical aspects of pet care can alleviate stress and susceptibility to accidents. If you don’t have a close family member or friend to do this, you might have to give away your pet. This is a hard decision and a difficult subject to breach because no one wants to give up their beloved pet. Designating a trusted family member, neighbor, or friend to come check on you and your pet’s well-being is a great idea. Don’t put yourself in danger of breaking bones simply because you are too proud to ask for help.

Although, pets can do wonders for an elderly adult, the pet’s needs are important to keep in mind as well. In some cases, an elderly person may forget to medicate or feed their pet. They may get to the point where walking their dog is difficult. For these reasons, choosing a designated family member or in-home health aide that is willing to check on the pet and help take care of it would be ideal. Some older folks go without food or necessities because money is tight, and they love their dog too much to let them suffer. Reach out to family members, friends, neighbors who care, or a nonprofit that provides assistance to aging pet owners.

Have a succession plan for your pet. Create a succession plan you are comfortable with early on. Designating a guardian for your pet in case you become ill or unable to care for the pet, is the humane, smart path to take. Some older people believe that putting their animal down is the best option because the animal is so bonded to its owner that it would be too depressed to bond with a new owner. This is not normally the case. Euthanizing a pet should be the last resort. There are many options for adoption, foster care, and shelters that can take care of your pet. Keep your pet for as long as possible, but don’t be afraid to start the succession plan when you need to. Taking away a pet may cause an elderly person to deteriorate mentally and physically, so make sure to allow regular visits with the pet. Many older folks look forward to these planned pet visits. Owning a pet while aging is certainly not for everyone. Ask your veterinarian, family members, and doctor if this is the right decision for you and your health. If you are healthy enough or your caregiver is willing enough to care for a pet, the rewards of pet ownership can be life-changing. An aging dog, cat, or even bird could be the best medicine and your best friend, all in one.

For the Animals,

Hillary Hart, DVM Please send questions and comments to hhartdvm@gmail.com