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Tips for retired first-time pet owners

29th April 2021

Retirement is something many people look forward to as they think it offers freedom but, for many, retirement can be incredibly lonely and isolating.

It can take time for people to adjust to this different way of life. For those older people who suffer from mobility issues and need aids such as stair lifts to get around their home or use scooters to get out and about, staying at home can be a struggle.

There are, however, many ways that you can combat this, ranging from joining a club to getting a pet. Owning a pet has lots of benefits as the UK’s leading feline charity Cats Protection says: “The benefits of owning a pet are well documented - according to our 2020 Cats and Their Stats Report, 62% of owners said their cats helped to relieve stress and loneliness.”

Before going onto the benefits of owning a pet, this guide takes first-time pet owners through the tips you need to look out for during the buying process.

Tips for older people looking to buy a pet

•Hand pick a breeder or shelter

•Do your research

•Buy an older pet

•Consider the cost of pets

•Make arrangements for a pet’s care

•Consider buying a small breed

•Make some simple checks to ensure the pet is healthy

•Ask the seller questions

Hand pick a breeder or shelter

You must choose a responsible breeder or a shelter when purchasing a pet. If, for example, you are looking at buying a dog, picking a responsible dog breeder or a shelter is an essential factor. You want to know your new pet is healthy and has been brought up in a supportive environment.

If you are looking to become a first-time cat owner, then one of the best places to look is Cats Protection. They spoke about their centres: “Cats Protection’s adoption centres are currently closed due to Covid restrictions, but we are still rehoming cats around the UK via our new online adoption process Hands-Free Homing. Anyone interested in adopting a cat can find their nearest adoption centre through our website, browse the available cats and fill in an application form. Our experienced staff will then match the right cat to the right home and your new cat will be delivered to your home. 

“We provide new owners with plenty of support and advice along the way and there is also a wealth of information on our website.”

Evita Wilson, the marketing manager at UK Pets, which is a comprehensive resource for pet owners, adopters, and breeders, says a crucial step in the buying process of a pet is choosing a credible breeder.

She said, “The breeder should allow you to meet the puppy's or kitten’s parents or at least the mother. It is important that you observe their temperament and personalities. These play an important part in shaping your pet’s character aside from his environment and training.”

Marc-Andre from Katzenworld, a one-stop source on all things cats, also recommends going to a shelter to adopt a pet.

“We would highly recommend visiting a shelter to adopt a pet. Adopting an older pet from a charity ensures that you can pick them by a personality that suits you and your lifestyle. Charities also often have older pets that would love to have a second chance in life and ended up in their care to no fault of their own.”

Do your research

While buying a pet seems nice, in reality, it isn’t as simple, as pets require a lot of time and attention to keep them happy and healthy.

It is always best for first-time pet owners to be fully prepared and that starts with the initial research you need to do.

Nina Cole, who worked in the pet industry for over 20-years and is now the pet influencer behind the blog When Nina Met Ellie, said: “Seniors looking to bring a dog into their lives should consider their age, health and lifestyle to ensure that you can meet their needs. Certain breeds of dog that are smaller in size with less energy would be ideal for those people who have mobility issues.

“Animals undoubtedly help to fill that void left by the loss of a loved one and their companionship help to reduce blood pressure, increase social interaction and reduce stress. It has also been proven that seniors with pets live longer and are less likely to suffer early dementia. 

“Homework is essential for anyone considering a pet and once this has been done why not contact your local dog rescue shelter? They will help you to determine the best breed or mix that will help bring you the joy and happiness of having a companion dog.”

Rachel Spencer, a freelance journalist who founded The Paw Post site, agrees that researching the best dog breeds for first-time pet owners should be at the top of your list.

“The first tip would be to think about your lifestyle and research the breeds that would fit in best.
If you love walking, an active breed like a Terrier or Spaniel might be ideal as they have lots of energy and you can enjoy exploring new places together.

“If you prefer a dog who is happier cuddling on the sofa and doesn’t need a huge amount of exercise, then consider a Shih Tzu, a Pekingese, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel or Chihuahua. You could even speak to a behaviourist for advice on the breed that most suits your routine.”

Buy an older pet

You may ask yourself why would anyone want to buy an older cat or dog, but as Ingrid King, award-winning author and publisher of The Conscious Cat, explains they make a great companion for older people.

She said: “They don’t have quite as much energy as kittens or young cats, and they tend to not get underfoot as much as younger cats might – something that can be important for seniors with mobility issues. That said, it’s important to understand that senior cats need stimulation, too, which seniors can provide through an enriched environment, and through spending plenty of time with their cats.”

Consider the cost of pets

Before going ahead and buying a pet for your home you should consider the cost of keeping a pet as it can be expensive. An article on The Money Advice Service website says that over your lifetime, the average cost of owning a pet is between £16,000 and £33,000 for a dog or cat, but some pets can be a lot cheaper.

The cost of a pet is something older people should consider before buying a pet as Nina Cole explains.

“Cost is a huge consideration since even smaller breeds will require annual injections, health care, dietary requirements, holiday care, insurance and unexpected veterinary bills.

“It is estimated that even a small breed would cost between £4,000 and £8,000 per year, rising to approximately £13,000 for a larger breed. This in itself can be challenging for people on a small income or basic pension. It is imperative, therefore, to assess the costs before committing.”

Make arrangements for a pet’s care

Another important aspect that needs to be considered when buying a pet for the first-time is making arrangements for your pet should you become ill. By doing this, you don’t have to worry about your pet if you are taken ill as you can simply activate your plan.

Ingrid King adds: “It’s important that seniors (or people of any age) who adopt a pet make arrangements for their care if they become ill, incapacitated or pass away. As responsible pet parents, we owe it to them to think ahead and make arrangements for their care when we can’t be there to take care of them anymore.

“There are a number of things you can do to ensure peace of mind not just for yourself, but for family and friends who may not know what to do in the event of your death or any other emergency, ranging from including your pets in your will, to establishing a pet trust to designating a family member or friend to care for them in the event that you can’t.”

Consider buying a small breed

Older people that struggle with their mobility may prefer to adopt or buy a small breed dog as they are easier to look after than the larger breeds.

Smaller breeds of dogs can be more manageable on leads than larger breeds, while cats are relatively self-sufficient and are therefore easier to keep.

Nina Cole talks about how smaller breeds of dogs may be easier to look after for older people with mobility issues: “Careful consideration should be taken when considering a breed if there are mobility issues. Those that use a walker for example would not be suited to a German Shepherd , while a smaller breed would require less exercise.”

Make some simple checks to ensure the pet is healthy

When buying a pet for your retirement, it is crucial that you are buying one that’s fit and healthy as the last thing you want is to purchase your perfect pet only for you to be hit by a big vet bill a few weeks later.

Evita Wilson from the UK Pets website recommends the following checks to make:

•The nose must be free from any discharge

•Ears do not have discharge or irritation

•No difficulty in breathing and does not cough or wheeze

•Shiny coat without ticks, or bare or inflamed areas

Ask the seller questions

No matter whether you are getting your pet from a breeder or a shop, you need to ask the seller some important questions before you take the pet home with you. Below are some questions to ask them:

•Do they have a licence for selling animals? Pets shops need a licence and private breeders are also often required to have a licence. You can find out more information on the government website.

•Has the animal had its vaccinations? If the pet you are buying needs all its vaccinations you will need to consider the cost of this. If the seller says it has you should ask for evidence of this.

•What is the animal’s temperament like? Finding out whether the pet is friendly, timid, aggressive and if it would suit being around other animals or children is very important to know as you can judge whether it is suitable for you.

What are the benefits of owning a pet?

  • Pets can cheer you up
  • Pets can help you exercise
  • You can make new friends!

Pets can cheer you up

Pets can make you laugh with their antics, but it has also been revealed that pets, particularly dogs, notice when their owner is upset and will try to make them happier.

Katzenworld’s Marc-Andre also believes pets can cheer you up as they give you a focus in your daily routine.

“Having a pet gives you a focus in your daily routine and especially cats and dogs will become your permanent companion. Cats are also great at cheering you up and keeping you calmer as they are less in your face than dogs.

“Having a pet can really help reduce your stress levels and improve your mental health and well-being. In addition to the relaxation hormones petting your cat or dog can release, the purring of cats is also known to provide comfort to us humans. In fact, scientific studies have proven that the frequency of a cats purr can have a positive impact on the overall wellbeing of humans and of course... it is one of the most relaxing and comforting noises!”

Pets can help you exercise

Owning a pet in retirement will encourage you to get out more and go for more walks which can improve your physical health.

Rachel Spencer, who shares her adventures with her dog on The Paw Post site, adds: “There are so many benefits to owning a pet no matter what stage in life you are at. 

“Having a dog means you get more exercise which is great for our heart, mental and overall health.

“Even if you have a dog that doesn’t need very much exercise, you will be going out at least twice a day for 20 minutes.”

You can make new friends

Older people who struggle to get out of their home due to mobility impairments because they need aids such as straight stairlifts and mobility scooters to get around can often feel isolated. This has been heightened with the coronavirus pandemic as well.

Pets, however, can provide their owners with companionship and they can also help their owner make new friends. Dog owners, for example, can meet new people during their walks. In a study of nearly 2,700 men and women conducted by Harvard, it revealed that being a pet owner was the third most common way people met others in their neighbourhood.

Nina Cole adds: “Older people can often feel isolated, especially if their family unit is scattered, therefore owning a pet provides companionship and gives structure to an otherwise isolating and lonely day.

“Animals also facilitate social interaction, be it exercising your dog each day, or popping into the local pet store for provisions. A lot of senior people may suffer from disabilities, therefore dogs can act as emotional support, while providing help with everyday tasks, such as emptying the washing machine and opening and closing doors.

Evita Wilson from UK Pets, adds: “Our pets are also bridges that connect us to new people, which can spark new friendships. Researchers believe that pet ownership influences our relationships, and that pet owners are more likely to get to know their neighbours in their area compared to those who don't have pets.”

What to do with pets while on holiday

Just because you own a pet doesn’t mean you can’t still go on holiday, but before you go away one of the biggest decisions for pet owners is to decide what to do with your pets. Here are some popular options you could follow.

•Pet sitter – Many pets feel comfortable in their surroundings and therefore hiring a pet sitter might be the best option for you. Professional firms like House Sitters UK will get an experienced pet sitter to come over to your home to feed, walk and play with your pet. With the current coronavirus restrictions in place, you will need to check what the latest rules in place are.

•Dog kennels or catteries – Boarding kennels and catteries are a popular choice to take your cat or dog when you are away. It is always best to check the boarding options available as you don’t want your pet to be sharing with another, but that they will get social time.

•Ask a friend or neighbour to look after your pet – If you’re off on holiday, consider asking your friend, neighbour or family member to look after your pet. If they are pet owners, you could always say you can return the favour when they want to go on holiday.

There are lots of benefits when it comes to owning a pet and this article shares some tips for older people looking to become first-time pet owners, including things to consider in the buying process.

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