Help Aging Loved Ones with Pets

Help Aging Loved Ones with Pets

Aging Adult with PetsBy Dr. Anna M. van Heeckeren, MS, DVM

If you’re anything like me (I have two children, an aging parent, pets, and my husband and I work), then I can understand some of the struggles you face. On top of that, my dad lives alone in a big house and has pets that he and my Mom had acquired before my Mom’s untimely death in 2012. While the details are likely different in your family situation, I’m sure you worry about how to care for your aging parent and their pets.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, approximately 60 precent of households in the U.S. own at least one pet (usually a dog or cat). People can form tight bonds with their pets, which is called the Human-Animal Bond.

So whether your parent owns a dog, cat, fish, birds, or another kind of pet, it’s possible that they have a very strong bond with their pet. If so, it’s important that you fully appreciate that.

For those older adults who live with pets, animals can be of great benefit to their health in many ways. A pet can lower blood pressure; keep them engaged in the community; give them a reason to get out of bed; keep them mobile; allow them access to touch; keep the connection to a lost loved one; give them unconditional love; and provide assistance.

If your aging loved one wants to continue living with a pet or is having trouble taking care the animal, there are options to meet everyone’s needs, (including the beloved pet) without stressing family members in the process.

When there are plans to move to a residential facility, there are questions that should be asked beforehand, such as:

Do you allow pets?

What kinds of pets are allowed?

How many pets are allowed?

Is there a size restriction on having a pet?

Is there a non-refundable deposit for having a pet? How much is it?

Is there a monthly fee for having a pet? How much is it?

Do you provide assistance with pet care, or is that arranged by the pet owner?

All residential facilities should have policies in place for annual veterinary care of pets that live with residents or even visit the facility, since a pet’s health can impact a person’s health.

At a minimum, pets need to receive a physical examination, be current on essential vaccinations, and be free from parasites.

Of course, there are options other than pet ownership. Some people are trained to come into a home, residential facility, or even hospital with a trained therapy pet.

My dad has chosen to live at home and keep his pets. He has lots of support to help him around the house for him and his pets. I hope your aging parents do, too.


 Dr. Anna at One Health Organization, if you or your loved one needs more guidance than is given here, please see our accompanying ad for details. 

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