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Are Cats Good Pets For Seniors?

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black cat sitting in a basketI’m blessed with wonderful neighbors – a senior couple who have been retired for several years. They have full lives, but their kids and grand kids are spread across the country. Because they missed having a loved one to spoil and fuss over, they were recently talking about adopting a cat.

Because of their age, they wanted to know are cats good for seniors? Cats make excellent companions for the elderly. Cats are low maintenance and have fewer medication issues than dogs. They’re predictable and happy indoors. Bonding with a pet lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, which helps senior owners stay healthier.

Pros Of Owning A Cat

First, as the mom of two feline fur babies, let me say that cats own you – not the other way around! Our cats are seniors themselves. They rule the house and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

1. When I come home after a long work day and the stress of fighting the endless traffic in our large city, I can count on a cat to jump up into my lap and soothe my stress with a few purrs. This falls right in line with the American Heart Association’s findings that pet ownership reduces the risk of heart disease.

Petting my cats not only relieves stress, it lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, according to the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They say that owning a pet also boosts emotional well being and has a positive effect against feelings of loneliness.

2. In respect to cats, they make wonderful companions. They are predictable and like a warm lap and a routine (trust me, our cats know exactly what time dinner should begin!). This is good for seniors who are lonely or who may miss having the daily routine that working used to provide before they retired.

3. Cats are also very low maintenance. An elderly person doesn’t have to worry about walking them, bathing them or taking them to the groomers, which is one of the hassles that come with owning a dog.
They are also generally healthier and have less medication issues than a dog, which is great for a senior on a fixed budget. Of course, this can vary with the animal, just as it can with dogs and people. In our case, our cats usually just need to visit the vet once a year.

“I always considered myself a dog person,” says Audrey Green, 61. “However, I work full-time and there was no way I could take care of one. Then I saw Ruby and I instantly fell in love.” – cjnews.com

4. Felines are content to be indoors one hundred percent of the time. Both of our cats have been indoor cats their entire lives. They actually ignore an open door, except to sit in front of it to see what’s going on outside.

Sure, they might sit at the window and watch birds or lizards, but they are safer (and healthier) if they stay in the house. Additionally, because they don’t have to be walked, an elderly owner wouldn’t have to worry about slipping and falling while taking them out in the rain or bundle up to avoid freezing outside in the winter.

5. While it’s definitely beneficial for a senior to get some exercise by walking a dog, cats only need to have their litter box scooped out once or twice a day. This makes them a great choice of pet for a senior with mobility issues.

There are even automated, self-scooping litter boxes on the market that eliminate the need for bending down to scoop.

The PetSafe Self Cleaning Cat Litter Box, like the one on the right, is a good example of a self-scooping litter box (check the price online).

6. Cats can entertain themselves, but a senior can also get some physical exercise by playing with a cat. Our cats like the sticks with a string and a “bird” on the end. We have to stand up and move around while wiggling the bird, so that the cats won’t get bored. It might not be a lot of exercise, but playing with a cat might get an elderly person up out of their chair.

Again, if mobility issues prevent that, it’s not required. Cats are easily entertained by stationary activities like chasing a laser pointer. They also aren’t as needy as a dog can be. They’re happy just hanging out in the same room with their “person.”

Cons Of Owning A Cat

  • Aging pet or aging owner
  • Medication cost and problems with administering it
  • Tripping or injury hazard
  • Cleanliness concerns
  • A senior’s cognitive issues could mean Fluffy goes hungry or worse

1. Aging can mean problems for cats down the road, just the same as for their owners. Cats age faster than their owners, which can take both an emotional and physical toll on a senior.

None of us want to watch a beloved pet decline in health nor do we want them to suffer. Having an ill cat or having to put down a furry companion can be devastating.

I remember a sweet lady in my dad’s senior apartment complex who had to euthanize her elderly cat. She was still mourning her companion two years later. Even though she was surrounded by people, her apartment was empty and she missed her fur baby a lot.

Caring for an ill cat could be physically hard on an elderly person, too. They might not be able to pick up the animal if they themselves are ill or frail. Plus, an aging senior may have vision problems that could result in tripping over their cat or they may develop mobility issues that could make having a pet problematic.

2. The few times we have had to give our cats medication, it’s turned into a tag team event worthy of a pro wrestling show. This could be a big problem for a senior who lives alone (as could the cost of medication for someone on a fixed income).

In our case, my husband holds the cat while I dance around him, trying to squirt the medicine into the cat’s mouth. All the while, the cat is squirming to get away. I’m not sure I could do this without help if I lived by myself.

portable pet stairs are a safe way for seniors to get pets up on a couch or bedAdd to that the problem of potential physical issues that a cat might develop as they age. They may need to be helped up or down stairs. They might become incontinent or forget where their litter box is located.

That said, there are products that can help. At one point, our 13-year old cat had a problem with her hip and had a hard time getting up on the couch (or on our laps). We got her a small set of stairs (check the price online) so she could sleep in her favorite spot on the couch (I told you our cats are spoiled).

3. Tripping or injury is another concern. One drawback to cat ownership is that cats (or most any pet) can inadvertently trip people. If this happens to an elderly person with balance issues or one who is frail, it could lead to a fall, broken bones, or worse. And, as I pointed out before, vision problems could also increase the risk of tripping.

To illustrate, our cats have a tendency to get under our feet when they know we’re fixing their food. A few years ago my young, spry husband stepped back and fell over one of them. He tore a muscle in his shoulder, requiring surgery. A fall like that could have been devastating for a senior citizen.

4. No matter how “clean” they are, animals are unsanitary – even a cat, which basically takes care of itself. Caring for them means you must wash your hands after feeding them or when you’re done scooping the litter box. Seniors who have early dementia might not remember to bathe themselves, much less wash their hands after cleaning up after their cat.

Along those lines – cats can scratch, even if they are only playing. I’ve gotten numerous cuts over the years. Think of where those cat’s paws have been! In a senior who has the thinner skin that comes with aging, getting scratched could mean a nasty infection, particularly if they don’t clean the scratch well.

5. Cognitive issues could mean that a senior’s cat doesn’t get fed or may go without water. Any number of equally horrible things could happen, as well.

It should go without saying that people with dementia or Alzheimer’s should not be responsible for taking care of a pet. For example, it isn’t uncommon for them to forget to eat, which means they could forget to feed a pet, too.  Or, they may not realize the cat’s water bowl is empty, or that the poor animal is trapped in a closet.

5 Best Cat Breeds For Seniors

If you or your senior loved one are thinking about adopting a pet, there are several cat breeds that make nearly perfect pets for seniors:

  • Maine Coons – I have to start with one of my cats because I can personally vouch for what a terrific companion Maine Coons make. Our Maine Coon catfemale, Cleo, is about the sweetest, most laid back cat you could ever imagine (that’s her in the image to the right). She purrs like an outboard motor, loves to cuddle, and doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body. She even carries on meowing conversations with us, although she isn’t talkative enough that she drives us crazy. One drawback to the Maine Coon breed is that they are large cats. Cleo weighed about 16 pounds at one point. She’s actually bigger than our male cat (Boo, who is pictured sitting in the basket at the beginning of this article). They also need frequent brushing to keep their silky fur from getting matted. If a senior adopts a Maine Coon, though, they’ll have a loving, devoted buddy.
  • Ragdoll – this is the breed that my neighbors ended up adopting. Maggie is as sweet as our Cleo and just as friendly. I take care of her when our neighbors are traveling and she’s very affectionate. Ragdolls are laid back, too. They are also long-haired, which means they need frequent brushing or their coats will mat. Ragdolls are a larger breed, so they may be difficult for a weaker senior to handle.
  • Persian – Persians are another friendly, laid-back cat breed. This is the breed that has that cute, smashed in nose. They love to snuggle with their owners and like a calm environment. Like all long-haired cats, however, Persians need regular brushing to avoid getting matted.
  • Scottish Fold – The Scottish Folds are loving and cuddly. They are also easy going, quiet cats, but they can be mischievous. They are “people” cats who like to be with their family members, which means they tend to follow their owners from room to room.
  • Birman – Birmans are long-haired cats, but the good news is that their fur doesn’t usually mat because it isn’t as thick as the coats of other breeds. Famous for their blue eyes, Birmans are people-oriented. They love to play, but they can be quiet and gentle, too. Birmans usually weigh between eight and twelve pounds.

You can read more about the characteristics and personalities of each breed on the Cat Fancier’s Association website.

4 Worst Cat Breeds For Seniors

For seniors who want to adopt a cat, there are several breeds to steer clear of:

  • Kittens – Okay, I know a kitten isn’t a “breed”, per se, but I advise seniors to pass over that charming kitty in favor of a senior cat. If a senior wants to adopt a cat, I would strongly discourage them from getting a kitten unless the senior is in great health. Kittens are adorable, but they have tons of energy and they get into everything. They need to run through an apartment at break-neck speed and wrestle around. If they don’t have a suitable outlet, they might decide to roughhouse with their new owner. A senior cat is much more laid back. They’re already grown, so an elder who adopts one knows what size and temperament they are getting. Plus, senior cats are less likely to destroy the drapes or climb on top of the cabinets the way a kitten would.
  • Siamese – While they are beautiful cats, Siamese are known to be very talkative – to the point of sometimes being obnoxious. They also can be temperamental and nervous. They often bond with just one person in the household. Siamese cats are energetic, active cats, which may not be a good fit for an older, more sedate person.
  • Abyssinian – Abyssinians are a smaller breed, weighing between six and ten pounds. These are the one that make me think of the Egyptian cats you would have expected a pharaoh to own. They are slender with long legs and big, pointy ears. Abyssinians are extroverted cats who are curious and like to play, but they have been known to bond with just one person, so they may not be good for a multi-generational household.
  • Hybrid cats – these are the cats with wild roots. Basically, they are domesticated cats that have been crossed with a wild cat. I’m talking about Bengal cats, servals, savannahs, ocelots, and the like. For example, Bengal cats are a cross between an Asian Leopard Cat and a domestic cat. The breed first appeared in 1963. Hybrid cats don’t make good pets for seniors because they can be more aggressive than other breeds.

Have A Plan

Often, seniors are worried about adopting a pet because of their own health concerns. They wonder who would take care of their beloved animal if they couldn’t. Or, who would take it in if they had to give it up?

This is where family members should get involved. Before a senior parent makes a final decision to adopt a cat, there should be a family discussion about providing care for the animal if they no longer can.

If your parent is considering getting a cat, be honest about whether or not you can take Fluffy in if you have to. If so, are you willing to take the cat permanently or just temporarily? Does someone in the family have allergies? Do you have dogs or a house where a cat might not fit in?

Another factor to consider is whether your parent can get to the store for supplies or to the vet if the cat gets ill. If your elderly parent is no longer driving, the burden may fall to you.

Keep in mind that there are helpful products on the market for seniors with pets. They can make it easier for a senior to take care of a cat.

TIP: If you or your senior loved one is having trouble taking care of a pet, read our article about things you can do to help elderly parents keep their pet.

Related Questions

Should a senior citizen get a puppy? It depends on the senior’s health. Having a dog can be beneficial, unless the person’s health is poor. Puppies need lots of attention, which may be physically difficult for a frail senior. Seniors must be able to walk the puppy, give it medicine, afford the food and vet bills on a fixed income, etc.

What are the worst dog breeds for seniors? Seniors should avoid large breeds like pit bulls, Rottweilers, huskies and akitas due to the physical strength required to take care of them. Avoid high energy dogs needing lots of attention like Australian shepherds, Jack Russells, and border collies. Also, avoid hard-to-housebreak dogs like Chihuahuas and pugs.


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