If your parents own a pet or two, it’s important to begin thinking about how to manage the situation if they can no longer care for their furry animal companion(s). Let’s talk about the steps you can take to care for your parent’s pets.
To help your parents and their pets initially do all you can to allow your parent to keep their pet(s). Research local volunteer organizations that can help and provide pet care services for little to no cost. Locate assisted living facilities in your area that allow pets to live with their residents. Make the home modifications needed to make it easier to care for that cat, dog, bird, etc.
For many seniors, their pets are their closest companions. Oftentimes they have cared for each other for many years. The loss of a pet can lead to depression, despair and a decline in health. Helping them to stay with and continue to care for each other is an important job for any caregiver of older adults.
Whether you rescue an animal or adopt them from a shelter or someone, our pets bring us love and joy. It’s can be devastating to an older adult to think of giving them up simply because they are finding it difficult to care for them.
Our geriatric loved ones lose so much due to aging. Their mobility, friends and relatives they grew up with, cognitive functioning and oftentimes, their independence. Losing their pets who provide unconditional love can be earth shattering.
When I was practicing as an Occupational Therapist, I personally had patients who died within weeks after having to give up their beloved dog(s) or cat(s). The grief of losing that companionship is just too overwhelming for many people.
So, before you casually take an animal away from your aging parent(s) – do all you can to keep them together for as long as you can.
Help Your Elderly Parents Keep Their Pet(s)
For seniors who are able to age in place – hiring someone to come in and help care for the pet is the best option – but can be restrictive, financially. Of course, if the “job” could be divided among several volunteers (i.e. neighbors, family members, friends, etc.) that would help to keep costs down.
For seniors who are considering moving into an assisted living facility, there are several (quite a few actually) that do allow pets. They often have specific restrictions related to the number of pets, size and weight of the pet(s) but still – it’s wonderful to see that so many are finally becoming pet friendly.
I certainly remember a time when that was not the case.
The 90 year old mother of a very dear friend of mine lived in an assisted living facility with her elderly cat, Gabby. They had been together 18 years and it was very clear to see how attached the two of them were.
In fact, the day that Gabby died – my friend’s mother also passed away – 4 hours later. We were all so extremely grateful that the two of them were able to stay together until the very end.
So, how are some ways that you can help your mom and dad stay with their beloved pet(s)?
If Your Parent Is Moving To An Assisted Living Facility
If it happens that your parent(s) have to move to a home such as an assisted living facility – seek out the ones that allow pets. Hopefully, your state will have at least one.
We are currently working on a comprehensive list of pet friendly assisted living facilities in the USA but in researching this list we found assisted living facilities in every state – but not every city or town.
Here is just a short list of some pet friendly assisted living facilities that we found in each state.
Somerby of Mobile in Mobile
The Brennity at Fairhope in Fairhope
Eagle Cliff Healthcare Community in Billing
Birchwood at Hillcrest in Bozeman
If Your Parent Is Aging In Place
Here are some tips on how you can help your parent(s) and their pet(s) if your parents are able to age in place in their own home.
- If you don’t already have a pet sitter – consider getting one. A professional pet sitter will always be available for caring for the pet(s) when and if your parent is not able to.
- If you don’t have the funding for a pet sitter – consider some of the volunteer organizations that may be able to help.
- RedRover.org – they have a list of organizations that can help with seniors and their pets.
- Hospaws – a non-profit organization in Pennsylvania whose mission is to “keep your pets happy and healthy, even while you can’t.
- Elderhelpers.org – a program that works to match volunteers with elders in need.
- Seniorspets.org – an organization of volunteers who help seniors in their communities with their pets.
- Luckie Street Project (in Georgia) – Their primary focus is to help families with pets. When life’s hardships create difficulties that impact the ability to properly care for pets, Luckie Street works with them.
- If the pet is a cat – move it’s litter box and food UP on a table or any area that is easier for your parent to get to.
- Make sure to purchase food cans and bags that your parent can open without a struggle. You may even consider taking the dry food out of it’s bag and placing it in a container that your parent can easily open.
- If the pet is a large dog – be aware that any tug on the leash may send your parent to the ground. It may be best for them to NOT walk the dog and instead, if possible, let the dog do his duty in the back yard. Otherwise, this is when a pet sitter, neighbor, a friend or you will have to take over.
- If your parent likes to cuddle with his/her pet in bed and they would normally pick the animal up and place him on the bed you may consider a pet ramp to minimize any possibility of falling and injury.
- Make sure the pet is microchipped and if you want to be extra cautious – you can also add a GPS tracker to their collar. Check out the different varieties of GPS trackers for pets on Amazon.
- Seniors can begin to struggle with their memory even while they remain physically healthy. This can cause issues with feeding – often feeding too much because they’re not sure if they already did it – and giving medication to pets. You can overcome this in a weekly visit by measuring out each day’s food and medication in advance, and putting it into a container labelled with the day of the week. You could also buy an automated pet feeder – there are a large variety available on Amazon and from pet stores. (this tip was provided by Michelle Turner from PetCarrierVerdict.com)
Home Modifications To Help Elderly Care For Their Pets
If you are able to make modifications to your living spaces to make caring for a pet easier, then that would be a wonderful win-win for both pets and their senior loved ones. Here are some ideas on what can be done.
- For dog owners – if there is a fenced in backyard – installing a doggy door may be helpful to reduce the number of times the dog has to be let in or out.
- For dog and cat owners – bending down to fill a food or water bowl may be difficult. So, modify the bowls by attaching a pole or PVC pipe to the bowl. Something like this as shown on Pinterest. If you want to place the food bowl on a higher surface you can place an ottoman next to that area so your pet can reach their bowl.
- For dog owners – you can also look at creating a flushable dog run in the yard to help keep the grassy area greener. Here’s a link to a DIY version.
- For cat owners – emptying the litter box can be difficult for the most able bodied person! So, to make it easier, use the new Slide Litter I recommend below and place the litter box in an elevated spot (table height would be good). But just make sure that the box is secured and that your playful cat won’t knock it down off the table.
Some products that may help to keep your parent and their pet safe are:
1) If your elderly loved one normally picks up their dog or cat to place them on the sofa or the bed – avoid the possibility of falling and injury by using portable pet stairs. Just make sure the stairs are in situated in an area that doesn’t create a problem for anyone to bump into it or have to walk all the way around it.
2) Feeding pets on the floor may be difficult for someone with compromised balance issues. If the dog is tall enough – consider using an elevated feeder.
3) For cat owners – cleaning out the litter box can be difficult. I would recommend to put the litter box on something that’s high enough to reach easily, like a table. Also, use litter that is easy to scoop, like Arm & Hammer’s new Slide Litter. I started using it recently and it’s GREAT.
4) If your senior lives in a neighborhood where they have to scoop up after their dog, jaw scoops can be operated with one hand. I would recommend to have a garbage container already lined with a plastic bag sitting outside so that they can just dump the waste from the scooper into the can as they get ready to come back in from their walk.
As a multi pet owner myself, I strongly suggest that all possibilities be considered and attempted. The heartbreak of separating a pet from his owner can be overwhelming, especially for seniors who are battling the loss of so much already.
Elderly Parent Unable To Care For Pet
The very first step to take when an elderly parent or senior loved one has a pet is to PLAN for the possibility of them not being able to care for their loving pet.
The best thing you can do is start making plans and having honest conversations early: if you wait until the situation gets serious, your parent won’t be emotionally prepared for losing their pet. Ideally, a relative or neighbor will be able to rehome the pet so it’s still easy for it to have visits. If it’s necessary to rehome with a stranger, involve your parent in the decision so they believe they’re doing the right thing. Above all, do anything you can to avoid euthanizing the pet or putting it in a shelter: it’s not fair on the pet, and the guilt for its previous owner can be overwhelming. – Michelle Turner at PetCarrierVerdict.com
- Is there someone who can adopt the pet? This would be the best case scenario knowing that your dog or cat is going to a good home.
- Select a place where the dog or cat (or other pet) can be boarded if the situation is temporary.
- If worst comes to worst and you have to put the pet in a shelter – choose the one that he/she would go to. But please know, that according to the American Human Society, 56% of dogs and 71% of cats who enter shelters are euthanized.
- Consider trying to schedule occasional visits. Even if it’s just monthly, the love between a furry friend and your parent will surely shine when they get together for a visit.
- Make sure someone knows who the Veterinarian is and where all the medical records for the pet are.
- Know the animal’s routine.
- What kind of food do they eat?
- What time do they normally eat?
- How much do they normally eat?
- If it’s a dog, when do they normally go out?
- How does the cat like to be petted?
- What toys do they like to play with?
The Healing Power Of Pets For Seniors
Anyone who has loved a pet knows the amazing bond that develops between human and animal.
It’s no secret that pets help to reduce stress, depression, lower blood pressure, increase socialization and help to encourage physical activity. For seniors, all these factors are extremely important.
“There’s a strong connection between heart health and pet ownership or interaction,” he said. “Pet owners are more likely to get recommended levels of exercise, have lower blood pressure and experience reduced levels of stress. Pets have even been shown to aid in recovery after a heart attack.” – PRNewswire.com
One of the main problems that seniors face is loneliness, and pets provide great company. Their unconditional love and support go a long way. I know for myself, after my husband passed away a few years ago – my pets were a great comfort to me (and still are) during those very lonely nights and mornings.
For many older adults pets are considered to be family members. Interactions with pets are not only important in terms of companionship, they are also associated with better health. For example, a study of people in Germany and Australia found that people who continuously own a pet are healthiest, visiting the doctor less often than non-pet owners. Researchers have linked the human-animal bond to reduced cardiovascular disease risk, lowered blood pressure and lower cholesterol.- Medicalxpress.com
Frequently Asked Questions
Should A 71 Year Old Get A Puppy?
The answer depends on how healthy the 71 year old is. If the owner is able to take care of the puppy and they have the home and finances to care for that pet, there’s no reason why they should not be able to adopt a puppy. I always recommend adopting from the humane society or other animal rescue shelter.
Are Cats Better Pets For Seniors Than Dogs?
Cats are better for seniors who have mobility issues. Most people don’t have to walk a cat.
Cats are also quieter than dogs and can be more sedate. Also, cats tend to be easy to manage on your lap but note that not all cats are lap cats.
Cats make excellent companions for the elderly. Cats are low maintenance and have fewer medication issues than dogs. They’re predictable and happy indoors.
Of course, I also recommend that if your pet is not neutered, to please get them spayed or neutered. It is generally easier to care for them and they will be a better companion.