As we get older, pets offer the possibility of constant companionship and some surprising health benefits. But before heading to the local pet store, it’s important to consider the impact adopting a pet in retirement will have on your life.
Phyllis Hannig, 84, of Delaware, adopted Sweetie, a Shitzu, as a puppy a few months after her husband died about 10 years ago. As his main caregiver, she needed something new to care for, something to help her get exercise and avoid the loneliness she felt after his passing. A friend helped her find the perfect companion.
“She’s a happy little dog, very independent, but always stays close, and she makes me smile and makes me move … get out and do things,” says Hannig. “She wants what she wants when she wants it.”
Reasons to Get a Pet in Retirement
Hannig strongly advocates getting a pet in retirement, and she’s not alone. A University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation poll sponsored by AARP found that 75% of the adults 50-80 surveyed said their pets helped them lower their stress and stay physically active.
According to Dawn C. Carr, Ph.D., MGS, FGSA, Director of the Claude Pepper Center, and professor of sociology at Florida State University, The top three benefits of getting a pet as you get older are:
- Touch. They provide regular exposure to beneficial physical contact, which can help lessen stress or pain.
- Regular exercise. Taking a dog for a walk, or even moving about caring for another type of pet, encourages physical activity and provides a daily routine and purpose to life.
- Connection. They can help those who are socially isolated to feel connected to another being and often to other humans; walking a dog is a great way to meet others.
Considerations for Older Adults
While bringing an animal into your life has plenty of benefits, as an older adult, you need to make some considerations you probably didn’t need to think about in your younger years.
For instance, “Older adults who are experiencing physical health struggles and will be unable to take a dog with high activity needs for a walk should probably choose a different animal.” says Carr. “Similarly, for folks who are at higher risk of experiencing falls, it may be wise to choose a cat instead of a dog because it is easier to provide care, and dogs are more likely to lead to accidental falls (depending on size, personality, and behavior).”
Carr also lists a few guidelines to help you choose the right pet for your age and physical ability.
- Energy match. Match the pet to the adult’s energy level or physical concerns—if you have mobility issues, consider something other than a dog or cat.
- Adult vs. juvenile pets. The pet’s energy level will directly impact your relationship with them and the match’s success. Adult pets may be a better fit than a puppy or kitten needing constant excitement.
- Logistical concerns. Ensure you are financially able to provide the veterinarian care and proper food and other supplies that your pet will need. Small pets are less expensive and may be allowed on planes and in assisted living facilities.
The Benefits of Fostering a Pet
Hanning has her own recommendation for choosing a pet who will work with your lifestyle. “If you can, get to know your pet’s personality before you bring them home. As you get older, you want a happy pet. And to feel relaxed about having one. Enjoy them!”
Fostering an animal from a local rescue can be a good way to test a potential pet in retirement without committing. “Fostering is unique in that it helps shelter animals acclimate to an eventual life in a home,” says Rena Lafaille, director of administration at the ASPCA Adoption Center. “Both adoption and fostering put shelter animals in safe and loving homes,” says Lafaille. It can also give you a chance to see how an animal’s personality and temperament work for you. And, because fostering offers help to an animal in need, you can decide it’s not the right match for you without any guilt.
“The staff at the shelter can help identify a match that is well-suited to anyone’s specific needs,” says Lafaille, who also recommends exploring the option of a senior animal. “Bringing an older pet into the home may be more suitable to an older individual’s lifestyle.”
Where to Find a Pet
If you think you’d like to bring a new friend home, there are many organizations that work to connect pets with owners. Many of these also have programs dedicated to matching seniors with their perfect furry friends. To find one near you, reach out to your local ASPCA or pet adoption agency for recommendations. Here are a few local programs that may be helpful.
- Animal League, Seniors for Seniors (New York)
- Senior Paws for Seniors (Pittsburgh, Pa.)
- PAWS Seniors for Seniors (Washington state)
- Pets for Seniors (Illinois)
This article is intended for general informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial or tax advice. For more information about whether a reverse mortgage may be right for you, you should consult an independent financial advisor. For tax advice, please consult a tax professional.