Best Companion Pets for Seniors
Summary: Loneliness is a problem for many seniors, negatively impacting their health. Getting a pet can be a great way to ease your loneliness and brighten up your life. There are several great pets for seniors to choose from, but the right pet for you depends on your needs, activity level, and commitment. Estimated Read Time: 20 mins
Table of Contents:
- Benefits of Pets for the Elderly
- What are the Best Pets for Seniors
- Top 10 Best Dog Breeds for Seniors
- Low Maintenance Pets for the Elderly
- Good Apartment Pets That Are Cuddly
- Best Pets for Dementia Patients
- Where to Find a Pet
- Things to Consider When Getting a Pet
- How to Choose the Right Pet
- Help for Seniors with Pets
- Does Medicare Cover Pets?
Pet owners are typically happy people, and it’s easy to see why. They have an adorable little friend that offers unconditional love. Pets can be wonderful companions for people of any age, but they’re especially good company for seniors. Senior citizens generally have more time to spend with a pet, as many are retired and spend more time at home. If you’re an older adult considering getting a pet, this post is the sign you’re looking for.
Benefits of Pets for the Elderly
There are a lot of perks to pet ownership. Being a pet parent can have various health benefits and help to bring more joy into your life. Besides the gift of having a cute animal around the house, many seniors have reported improvements in their lives overall from having a pet.
According to a study from the University of Michigan, older adults between the ages of 50-80 stated that pets:
- Help them enjoy life (88%)
- Make them feel loved (86%)
- Provide a sense of purpose (73%)
- Help them be more physically active (64%)
- Reduce stress (79%)
- Help them connect with other people (65%)
Read on to learn how having a pet can brighten your golden years.
According to the CDC, loneliness in older adults is a serious public health issue in the United States. Nearly 25 percent of adults 65 and older are socially isolated. Seniors are more likely to be lonely or socially isolated because many have chronic health conditions, live alone, or have lost close family and friends.
However, having a pet can help ease loneliness if you’re feeling alone. Pets often provide their humans with comfort and companionship through affection. Many people consider their pets to be members of their family equal to humans. A survey found that more than half of pet owners think of their pets as family, so you wouldn’t seem crazy for talking to your pet daily and treating your new friend like a person.
Improve Physical and Mental Health
Loneliness can have a harmful impact on your mental health. Research shows that loneliness is linked to higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
A pet can help improve your mental health as they’ve been shown to ease anxiety and boost confidence in their owners.
It can even take a toll on your physical health, as loneliness is associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increase in the chance of a stroke. Social isolation in seniors is also tied to a 50% increased risk of dementia. Lastly, social isolation and loneliness may increase the likelihood of an early death from all causes.
Having a companion pet can lessen these health risks, as their presence in your house can help you feel less lonely.
Give a Sense of Purpose
Having a pet can give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment from caring for another living creature. A pet can give you an extra reason for getting up in the morning, as your furry friend will most likely wake you up for breakfast. Taking care of a pet will also give you a daily routine to follow, which can bring further purpose into your life.
Furthermore, by adopting a pet, you will feel fulfilled in knowing that you not only gave a previously abandoned pet a good home but that you made room at the rescue or shelter for another pet to find a loving family too.
Having this sense of purpose can give you a significant boost to your mental health.
Increased Physical Activity
Pet ownership, especially dog ownership, can help you get healthier by making you more active. Having a dog would give you a reason to go for a walk at least once a day. Going for a low-intensity 20-minute daily walk with your dog (or other pet in a stroller) may improve your heart health and keep your legs in shape for better mobility.
If you’re feeling stressed, a pet may be the best medicine. Animals are used in therapy because they’re effective in helping to calm people down from stress and anxiety. According to research, the comfort of a pet can decrease your levels of the stress hormone cortisol while increasing your levels of serotonin and dopamine, the hormones that make you feel happy and relaxed. Since owning a pet can help you relieve stress, it can also lead to decreased blood pressure and cholesterol. A well-behaved pet could be just what you need to get through the day stress-free.
Increased Social Interaction
Pets don’t just give you companionship on their own; they can help you meet other people. Going for a walk around your neighborhood with your pet or to the local dog park could help you make a new friend as you bond over your pets. You could also meet people at the vet’s office or the pet store. There are countless opportunities to meet other pet owners and build lasting relationships.
What are the Best Pets for Seniors
The best pets for senior citizens are generally low maintenance, low energy, and easy to handle overall. However, there really is no one-size-fits-all best pet for seniors. The best pet depends entirely on you and what you can realistically handle in terms of pet care.
There’s a wide variety of lovable pets you can choose from. Besides the ever-popular cats and dogs, you could consider a rabbit, a bird, or some fish.
Even though there’s no universal best pet for older adults, typically, senior pets are a good fit. Older pets are often perfect for older people because they’re easier to take care of than energetic younger pets.
Another plus of a senior pet is that what you see is what you get when it comes to personality. Baby animals are cute, but you don’t know what they’ll be like when they get older. They may end up being more than you can handle. Older pets are much calmer and are mostly content to just sit with you and enjoy living out their golden years with a loving human. They have a lot of love left to give, but they don’t get adopted as often simply because they’re older.
Many local animal rescues and shelters have a “Seniors for Seniors” program where you can get the adoption fee waived for adopting an older pet. Look up “Seniors for Seniors” pet programs to see if this option is available at a rescue or shelter near you.
Top 10 Best Dog Breeds for Seniors
Dogs are the most popular pets in America. They’re friendly, loyal, and lots of fun. There’s a reason dogs are called man’s best friend, but not every dog breed is good for seniors. Some breeds are better than others because they’re calmer and are easier to care for. Small dogs tend to be better for seniors overall because they’re not as hard to manage as larger dogs. Here are some of the best dogs for seniors.
The small, fluffy Bichon Frise is very affectionate. They’re only about 7-12 pounds and easy to handle. Bichons are also relatively easy to train. You would need to groom their fluffy fur regularly, but otherwise, they are pretty low-maintenance dogs. Many Bichon owners only have to take their pet to the groomer every month or two. They also don’t shed much, which means less vacuuming for you.
Shih Tzus form strong and rapid bonds with humans, making them excellent for seniors looking for a canine companion. This breed is known for its cheerful demeanor, although they can be stubborn at times. However, they are less demanding and less prone to excessive barking compared to other small dogs, which makes them a good option if you live in an apartment. Additionally, their low energy levels mean they only require a few brief walks each day, making them a great choice if you’re less active.
Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
When it comes to finding the perfect canine companion, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels should definitely be a top choice. These dogs are happiest when snuggling and sharing kisses with their owners. What’s more, their eager-to-please nature makes them a breeze to train. Also, they only need moderate exercise, which makes them an excellent match if you prefer a less active lifestyle.
The Maltese stands out as an excellent choice among small dog breeds for seniors. These tiny dogs were purposefully bred to provide companionship, and they excel in that role. Known for their unwavering loyalty, sweet temperament, calm demeanor, and adaptability, Maltese dogs easily form strong bonds with humans. While they enjoy tagging along with their owners, they just need short, leisurely walks to maintain their health. Weighing in at an average of 4 to 7 pounds, Malteses are also effortlessly portable, and their petite size makes them a perfect fit for apartments or homes with limited space.
Greyhounds are renowned for their athleticism, earning them the title of the fastest dog breed. However, what’s often overlooked is their gentle and sensitive nature, coupled with their low grooming requirements, making them an excellent choice for seniors. Particularly, retired racing greyhounds make ideal companions for older individuals. While they do require daily exercise, greyhounds actually have a reputation for being pretty lazy. Weighing in at a range of 60 to 75 pounds, these gentle giants are content to lay around the house, enjoying pets and back rubs.
French bulldogs are one of the easiest dog breeds. Their gentle personality and low energy make them one of the best dogs if you’re less active. All the need for daily exercise is a walk around the block. French bulldogs’ small size and the fact that they’re not big barkers also make them one of the best apartment dogs. As a bonus, they are also excellent cuddlers and are very loyal.
Pugs can effortlessly match their owner’s energy level. They are very affectionate and perfectly content to snuggle in your lap or shower you with kisses. They only need brief walks for the most part. However, it’s essential to be cautious about their weight, as pugs are prone to obesity. You would need to keep them on a strict diet to keep them healthy.
If you love the outdoors and want a motivating exercise partner, a Beagle would be a perfect dog for you. These energetic, lively, and sociable dogs love outdoor playtime and extended walks. They don’t demand constant attention or supervision. Beagles are perfectly content with some alone time. They also have short, dense fur, making them easy to groom.
Havanese are small, incredibly affectionate, and sociable companions. They relish every moment spent with their beloved humans, making them an excellent option if you spend most of your time at home. These smart dogs are very playful and easily learn new tricks. They also make good guard dogs, though they don’t bark constantly. It’s worth noting that they do demand regular grooming to ensure their coats remain sleek and free from tangles.
Miniature schnauzers are small, hypoallergenic, and affectionate. This breed is known for being very calm and would be great around energetic grandchildren. Their calmness also makes them excellent therapy animals. Mini schnauzers need a moderate amount of daily exercise but are also good at simply lounging around with you while you read or watch TV.
Low Maintenance Pets for the Elderly
While dogs are great pets, they can be high-maintenance at times. If you don’t have the time or energy to keep up with a dog, here are some other great pets who will provide just as much love but may be more your speed.
Cats are notorious for being independent animals. They clean themselves, they use a litter box, and you don’t have to walk them. They also don’t require as much attention, but they will come to you and happily sit on your lap for hours if you let them.
As long as you don’t mind cleaning litter boxes, cats don’t require much work beyond feeding and occasional brushing. If you want a cat with less grooming needs (and less fur everywhere), short-haired cats would be better than long-haired cats for your home.
Some of the best cats for seniors include:
- American Shorthair
- Russian Blue
These breeds make good cats for seniors because they’re all typically gentle, calm, playful, and very affectionate.
If you’ve never considered a rabbit for a pet because you thought they were wild or farm animals, then now is the time to change that. Domestic rabbits make fantastic pets, and they’re not too much work. Like cats, they can be litter trained, and they’re very quiet. Rabbits are also social creatures who love attention and enjoy sitting with their humans to be pet. Plus, they’re very cute!
There are a few important things to know about before getting a rabbit. One is that they need more space than a cage. If you don’t want your rabbit to free roam (have access to the whole house like a cat or dog would) then it needs at least a 4×4 pen to hop around in. Another is that 80% of their diet consists of hay, not carrots. They do love carrots, but they should only have them occasionally as a treat since the natural sugar can upset their stomach if they have too much. Also, rabbits should be kept as indoor pets only and not in a hutch outside. Rabbits are prey animals and are targets for wild animals such as foxes, hawks, bears, and anything else that could come into your yard. Lastly, rabbits need to see an exotic vet for care. Most vets are only qualified to treat cats and dogs, so finding an exotic vet may be tough in your area.
With the proper care, rabbits can live up to 12 years. They can be very loyal, lovable companions you’ll be happy to see hopping around your home every day.
You never need to worry about a fish making a mess of your house. These are easy-to-maintain pets, and many fish owners find it soothing to watch them swim around.
You would have plenty of choices in pet fish to keep. You could go the standard bowl route and get some goldfish or a single betta fish. Or you could get a big, tropical-themed tank for several fish.
You would need to clean their bowl, tank, or aquarium about every other week. Depending on the type of fish and how elaborate your setup is, you may need to do weekly water testing and monthly gravel vacuuming. However, fish food is inexpensive, and there are no vet costs for fish.
Birds can be great pets for seniors. Many birds don’t need much care outside of daily feeding, watering, and cleaning their cage. They’re also very colorful and can brighten up any room.
However, birds may not be the best pets if you live in an apartment, as they can be noisy. They’re also not the cuddliest creatures, though they can be good company if you enjoy their chirping.
Other Small Pets
Other small pets, such as guinea pigs, ferrets, hamsters, and even rats, can be great companions for seniors. These pets don’t need much space, they can be litter trained, they groom themselves, and they’re relatively low maintenance. They’re also quiet, making them perfect apartment pets. These pets do tend to sleep a lot, but they’re also very friendly animals who love attention. They’re also very smart, and you can teach them tricks.
However, these small pets need special food that can be hard to find outside of pet stores. Like rabbits, they also require an exotic vet for their care.
Good Apartment Pets That Are Cuddly
The best apartment pets are quiet and don’t need too much space. If you live in an apartment, a dog may not be the best choice for a pet because they can be noisy and may require more space. Even smaller dogs could pose a problem in an apartment if they bark a lot.
Some perfect apartment pets are cats, rabbits, fish, and other small pets like guinea pigs. Many of these pets are cuddly overall, but it depends on the personality of each pet. Some may be more shy and only want to be pet when they’re in the mood.
Some pets may not want the kind of affection you’re looking to give. For example, you may want to pick up and hold a rabbit because they’re so fluffy and adorable, but most rabbits don’t like to be picked up. This is because they’re prey animals, so they typically prefer to always have all four feet on the floor. However, many rabbits still enjoy cuddling up next to you on the couch or lying on you while you watch TV.
Ask your local animal rescue or shelter about the pets they have for adoption. The volunteers there will tell you which ones like to cuddle. Or, better yet, visit with adoptable pets and see for yourself which one jumps into your arms.
Best Pets for Dementia Patients
If you or your loved one has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it could be hard to care for a pet. However, they can still enjoy the company of one. Robotic pets for seniors offer all of the companionship of a pet without worrying about taking care of one or cleaning up any messes.
Many robot pets come with AI features that can answer to voice commands and engage in real-time interaction. Robotic pets can offer the same kinds of mental health benefits as real pets.
You can find a variety of plush, robotic companions online that make great pets for senior citizens.
Where to Find a Pet
When looking for a pet, you may be tempted by the cute animals in the pet store windows. However, you should proceed with caution and ask the store employees for more information on these animals.
Some pet stores (like Pet Smart) often have pets sponsored by a rescue that you can adopt. However, there are some pet stores that get their animals from breeders, and you want to be careful here because these pets often have a lot of health issues because they were never taken care of properly.
An excellent resource you can use to find a pet is Petfinder. This website has adoptable pets from dogs, cats, rabbits, and more. Just enter your zip code to find adoptable pets from rescues and shelters in your area. You can also filter your search to find pets by breed, age, size, and even some behaviors.
Things to Consider When Getting a Pet
Now that you know about the many pros of getting a pet, it’s also important for you to consider the cons. According to the aforementioned Michigan study, some seniors have reported some downsides of pet ownership.
One of these potential downsides is that pets can put a strain on your monthly finances. Every pet needs food, supplies, and some toys. Some pet food can get more expensive than others, especially if the pet has special dietary needs. Cats, rabbits, and other small pets need litter. These regular expenses can add up quickly.
Then, there are less regular expenses such as vet care and grooming. Vet care can be costly for any pet, but animals that aren’t cats or dogs need to see a specialized exotic vet. Treatment from an exotic vet can be more expensive and harder to find, as not every vet is qualified to treat animals besides cats and dogs.
Another hardship of having a pet can arise if you travel a lot. If you plan to go on vacations throughout the year or be away from home constantly, then a pet wouldn’t be a good fit for you. Hiring a boarder or pet sitter regularly can be expensive, and it’s not fair to the animal if it doesn’t get consistent attention from you.
Furthermore, if you have mobility issues or are prone to falls, getting a pet may not be a good idea unless you have someone living with you in case of an emergency. Pets can cause accidents for their owners by darting out in front of them or placing themselves in inconvenient locations.
Fostering a Pet
Something to consider to see if pet ownership is really right for you would be to foster instead of adopt. Many animal shelters and rescues are overwhelmed with animals in need and could really use foster parents to help care for all of the pets in their custody.
When you foster, it’s not as big a commitment as adopting because all parties understand that the situation is temporary. You can foster an animal for a few months or until the pet finds a forever home with someone else.
Another benefit is that the shelter or rescue will cover the costs of the animal’s care while you foster. You just need to give space in your home and plenty of time and affection for the animal in your care. If you do get attached, then you can adopt and give your pet a happy home.
How to Choose the Right Pet
Now that you’ve decided whether you want a new pet, it’s time to pick one out. Here’s how you can choose the right pet for you and your household.
- Ask yourself what kind of pet would be best for you. Be realistic about the level of care and commitment you would be able to provide.
- Research the type of pet you want. Learn all about their care, habits, and expenses so that you’re fully prepared to bring a furry friend home.
- Once you’ve decided what kind of pet you want, check Petfinder for adoptable pets in your area.
- Visit local shelters or schedule a meet and greet with an animal in foster care to see if that pet is the right fit for you and your home.
Once you find the right pet, it’s time to buy supplies and get ready for all the joy your new best friend will bring into your life.
Help for Seniors with Pets
If you need financial assistance caring for your pet, there are resources for seniors. There are a few programs that offer help with paying for pet food and vet care. You don’t need to rehome your beloved companion if you just need some help paying for their care costs.
One helpful nationwide organization is the Pets for the Elderly Foundation. They’ve helped many seniors get adoption fees waived and provided free spaying/neutering and vet exams for pets prior to adoption as needed. Pets for the Elderly can also point you to further resources if you need more help caring for your pet.
Another nationwide program is Meals on Wheels America Pet Assistance. They provide elderly pet owners with free pet food and supply deliveries, grooming, and vet care.
There are also various state and city-specific pet programs for older adults. A list of these can be found through the Humane Society or by searching for pet care resources for seniors.
Does Medicare Cover Pets
Unfortunately, Medicare pet insurance doesn’t exist, but if you have decent credit, you can apply for Care Credit. Care Credit is an interest-free credit card you can use at most veterinarian offices. This is the closest thing to Medicare for pets there is.
However, it’s important to note that if you do use Care Credit, you must pay the full amount of your bill by the end of the promotional period if you want to avoid any interest charges. This period can be anywhere from 6 to 48 months, depending on your balance.
Does Medicare Cover Service Dogs
There is no Medicare coverage for service dogs or any other type of service animal, no matter how necessary they may be. There are no insurance plans under Medicare, Medicaid, or any other kind of health coverage that will help to cover the costs of a service animal.
Although Medicare doesn’t extend to pets, you can get more extensive coverage for yourself. If you feel that you have too many out-of-pocket expenses under Original Medicare (Medicare Part A and Medicare Part B) then a Medicare Supplement (Medigap) plan could be beneficial to you.
One of our licensed agents can walk you through the benefits of a Medigap plan so you can decide if supplemental coverage is right for you. Call the number above or complete our online form to see plan rates in your area.
This article is sponsored by Accushield. In this interview, Senior Housing News sits down with Jayne Sallerson, President &…