In some countries in the world, as many as one in three older people report feeling lonely, according to the World Health Organization. In fact, according to a global study published in February of 2021, 40 percent of South Africans reported feeling lonely always, often, or some of the time.
Unfortunately, frequent feelings of loneliness and social isolation can have devastating effects on the mental and physical health of senior citizens such as significantly increased risk for depression, heart disease, other mental health issues, and overall poor health.
However, studies have shown that owning a pet provides many benefits that can combat loneliness and the negative effects that come with constantly feeling socially isolated. For example, owning a pet can reduce loneliness and depression, lower blood pressure and heart rate, reduce cholesterol and the risk of suffering a heart attack, boost serotonin levels, and increase physical activity.
If you or a loved one feel lonely or are looking for a life-long companion that can boost your overall health, here are 7 tips to care for pets as a senior.
1. Pick the Best Pet for You and Your Lifestyle
Although pets are proven to provide you with countless health benefits, remember that it is still your responsibility to care for your pet and make sure that you are also meeting their needs. It is important to be well informed of your responsibilities, as well as each animal’s specific care requirements before choosing to commit to your new best friend.
Some important factors you’ll want to consider when choosing your pet include:
- Energy levels/ age (younger animals have more energy and need to be trained)
- Exercise requirements
- High-maintenance or low-maintenance
- Sleeping, eating, drinking schedules
- Grooming/ Hygiene requirements
- Temperaments and characteristics of specific breeds
- Bathroom needs
- Size of animal/ strength (can you control the pet without overexerting or injuring yourself)
- Necessary living conditions (tanks with regulated temperatures, cleaning
2. Set a Pet Care Plan: Be Prepared for Future Pet Finances
One of the most important requirements when choosing a companion is that you are able to care for your pet financially. Besides the initial cost of buying a pet, there are many other regular costs that come with enjoying the company of a pet.
Like any other living being, pets require food, water, shelter, medical attention in the form of regular visits to the vet or possibly unexpected emergency visits to the veterinary hospital, medicine, toys, beds, crates, tanks, vaccinations, soap, collars, etc.
If you do not have the financial means to provide the proper care that every pet deserves, then it is best to look into other options such as pet therapy or fostering an animal that will provide you with the benefits of interacting with a pet, without the financial responsibility of ownership. If you think this describes you, skip down to tip number 7 to learn more about your options.
3. Search for Smart Pet Supplies That Make Life Easier
When caring for your pet, work smarter, not harder. With so many pet supply options on the market, there are various products that make it easy to care for pets.
Some examples of pet products that can make your life easier, while ensuring that your pets are receiving proper care include:
- Automatic water dispensers
- Automatic food dispensers
- Self-cleaning litter box
- Indoor potty pads
- Grooming brushes
- Toys that keep your pets active and busy without effort like ones with hidden treats or lasers
- Pet grooming wipes that keep them fresh in between baths and grooming sessions
4. Look into Pet Care Services that do House Calls
During these times, it is pretty easy to find pet services that will come out to your home so that you don’t have to worry about putting your pet in the car and making the tiring trip there and back.
Look into local pet care services such as veterinary care, obedience training, dog walking, and pet grooming services that do house calls. This will allow your pet to be properly cared for without the hassle of having to figure out transportation for you and your pet or deal with confusing directions.
5. Take Safety Precautions Around your Pet
Pets can have a lot of energy and often lack body and spatial awareness. Because of this, it is important as a senior citizen to be extremely cautious when walking around or interacting with your pet, as falling is the leading cause of death from injury in people over 65 years old.
Although pets may not mean any harm, even a sweet dog that is just excited to see you can turn into a tripping hazard as they zoom between your legs and feet as you walk through the front door. For this reason, it is important to be hyperaware of leashes that can get tangled underneath your feet on your daily walks, toys left out on the floor, urine or water that can make the floor slippery, the strength of your pets, and their general location in relation to you.
If your pet is hyper or overstimulated, give them some time to calm down. Make sure their energy is manageable before taking them on a walk so that they don’t jolt you around and injure you, or have a seat for a few minutes when you walk in the door so you don’t accidentally trip on them. An even safer, foolproof option could be installing a stairlift into your home to avoid injury from falling down the stairs or tripping over a pet. With both indoor and outdoor options, a stairlift could safely deliver you to your destination, assisting you in going down the stairs to feed your cat or outside to walk your dog.
6. Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help or Hire Help When You Need It
Remember that everyone needs help sometimes, and asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. Although owning pets can drastically improve a person’s quality of life, pets are also a big responsibility and require energy and effort, no matter how old you are.
It is more likely than not that at some point, you will need to ask a loved one or neighbour to feed your cat for you or take your dog on a quick walk. Make sure that your pets’ needs will always be met, regardless of what your health situation may be.
If this means hiring extra help to lighten the load of taking care of your pet, do what’s best for you and your animal. Whether you are in need of a dog walker, someone to feed or play with your animal, or someone to train your pet, there are many options you can look into.
7. Consider Pet Therapy or Fostering
If owning a pet is unrealistic for your lifestyle or conditions, or you aren’t confident that you will be able to meet your pet’s needs physically or financially, consider participating in pet therapy or looking into fostering.
Pet therapy is an excellent way to combat loneliness and social isolation, reaping the benefits of interacting with animals without the responsibility of owning and caring for a pet. Just petting an animal can help a person relax, lowering their blood pressure and heart rate and boosting their levels of serotonin.
Fostering is another great option for someone who may not be able to support a pet financially. Many foster organizations provide their volunteers with free supplies, vaccinations, and neutering/spaying, while they assist in the long-term goal of getting the pet adopted into a permanent family. With so many animals on the streets in need of a loving home, fostering is a great way to give back to the community, improve you and the animals’ qualities of life, and get the pet experience without committing to adoption. Look into your local foster organisations to see how you can provide an animal with a loving home until they are adopted.