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Should you get a pet to combat loneliness?

25th June 2015

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.

One of the worrying factors about growing older is the thought of becoming lonely, whether this is in the event of a spouse passing away, or living in a location far away from relatives. However, there are many solutions to this problem, such as day care centres, contact the elderly schemes, and even adopting a pet.

While the latter may have not crossed your mind, it may be an option that you decide to consider, as animals can become loving companions. Here, with the help of experts, we discuss whether getting a pet could be a positive experience for you.

What are the benefits of an older person adopting a pet?

Many studies have shown the positive effects that contact with an animal can give a human, such as reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and increasing social interaction and physical activity. Woofability agrees with this statement and describes just how helpful a trained dog can be for a stairlift user with a disability.

“Having a dog as a companion can have a positive effect on your health and wellbeing but some dogs can provide even greater benefits. Woofability trains Assistance Dogs for disabled children and adults, the dogs help with tasks around the home such as emptying the washing machine, fetching the post and helping with dressing and undressing, when they are out and about they press the buttons to open automatic doors and help with shopping. The dogs are allowed to go everywhere with their partners so they can provide independence and the self-confidence to go out into the community and live life to the full.

“In addition to providing their own Assistance Dogs, Woofability train disabled pet owners’ dogs so that they can be registered too, which means that owners can gain the full benefit of dog ownership.” - Woofability

Pets for the Elderly are an organisation in America that organise the adoption of older animals, with companions over the age of 60 by underwriting a portion of the initial cost. This provides a beneficial relationship for both the owner and pet when matched successfully.

“We firmly believe in the importance of the human/animal bond in the wellness of senior citizens.  The mission of the Pets for the Elderly Foundation is two-fold – “To give both a lonely, elderly person and an innocent unwanted animal the gift of life, health, and happiness.” Our goal is to save and enhance lives – that of seniors and of the animals.

“Naturally, both the living situation and the ability to care for an animal come into play with adoption by seniors. Ideally, the animals adopted are older animals, who often have a difficult time getting adopted, and have an energy level that better matches that of the senior adult.” - Pets for the Elderly

However, petcare company Purina feels that ownership of an animal may not be suitable for all older people, and offers expert advice to those who may be unsure.

The question of pet ownership for the elderly is a very complex one and each case should be considered on an individual basis. Our team of petcare advisors and vet nurses are available for potential pet owners to talk to on the freephone number shown here: 0800 212161” - Purina

What should an older person consider before adopting a pet?

Even if you are lonely, and feel that a pet could be the solution, there are a number of things that should be considered before committing to homing an animal. Here, Pets for the Elderly list some of the points that should be undertaken or well-thought-out beforehand.

• Meet with the pet.  Make sure you bond, and that this is the right one for you. Know what you want and can handle in the way of activity level, grooming/brushing, etc.

• Consider your finances.  Having a companion animal isn’t just the cost of adoption, but feeding, grooming and vet visits, as well.

• Make sure your living situation allows you to have a pet.  If you own your home, is your yard fenced? If you rent, does the landlord allow animals? Are you able to bend over to clean litter boxes, pick up the yard, set out fresh water?

• Have a plan in place for a caregiver should you be away from home for extended periods of time, such as medical emergencies or travel.

• If you have other pets already in the home, make sure your new companion fits in.

Which species of animal makes the best pet for an older person?

While dogs and cats are the most common animals kept as pets, there are a number of other species which may be more suitable for an older person, and the RSPCA has a wealth of experience in understanding which are most suitable.

"Which animal is right for you will depend on your abilities/lifestyle but we do tend to find that most older people would prefer not to have a young puppy or kitten; the thought of house training and chewed slippers is not the retired person's idea of fun!

"Instead we find that many older people looking to rehome tend to go for the older animals; the dogs that are already housetrained and like to pootle along on the lead a couple of times a day or the cat that likes to curl up on a lap and be groomed in the evening.

"Increasingly we see older people adopting house rabbits; gone are the days of rabbits in hutches at the bottom of the garden, people realise that rabbits are social animals that need company and space to perform natural behaviours. Rabbits tend to be clean animals that can be litter-tray trained and can enjoy being hand-fed so having a large living space for them inside can be incredibly rewarding.” - Abigail Moon, RSPCA Rehoming Operations Manager

For more ideas try taking our quiz, which pet is best?

Here, Wood Green have some useful advice for those torn between adopting a puppy or kitten, or instead rehoming an older animal.

“If you want a cat as a companion, one that doesn’t climb the furniture (or your legs) and get under your feet, then a kitten would not be the best choice for you. Go for a cat that has a known history of being a lap cat, one who doesn’t like to go outside too much and likes to have lots of human company.”

“Young dogs and puppies have a similar need for attention and care as a toddler or young child does, puppies go through a mouthing stage when they learn about their environment using their teeth on almost everything, during this time it’s inevitable that they will use their mouths on our skin, this is a challenge as human skin loses its elasticity over time and tears easily, adult dogs are much less likely to do this and most older dogs remain active until they are very mature and therefore most need two walks a day.” – Wood Green

Which plans should an older person have in place before adopting a pet?

It’s also incredibly important to ensure that you are prepared for any unexpected events should they occur, as your pet will need 24/7 care.

"Whatever animal a person chooses to adopt, they need to ensure they have the support network around them to help out should they become sick or too infirm to look after their animal anymore. Charities like The Cinnamon Trust may be able to help but with increasing pressure on limited resources, it is best that people plan ahead.

"Fostering could be a way for an older person to have animals in their life without taking on a too long-term commitment.

"The RSPCA also runs Home for Life, a legacy scheme whereby you can leave your animal to the RSPCA in event of your death; this is a good way for people who don't have family members to take on their animals to ensure their animals will be taken care of." - Abigail Moon, RSPCA Rehoming Operations Manager

-          RSPCA

Image Credit: Bromford (Flickr.com), Woofability, RSPCA

This content was written by Emily Bray. Please feel free to visit my Google + profile to read more stories.