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Tips for retired first-time pet owners

4th June 2019

Retirement is something many people look forward to as they think it offers freedom but, for many of us, 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 like stairlifts 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.

A study by cat charity Cats Protection, which surveyed around 1,000 over-55s, revealed that cats helped their owners feel younger and healthier. The research also found that cats played a major role in keeping their owner active, while over 70% of respondents said their cat made them laugh.

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

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 it makes 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.”

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 runs Nina's Nannies for Pets, says, “homework is essential, especially if someone is considering bringing a dog into their home. For example, you would need to ascertain how much exercise a dog requires, the expense of feeding them, pet care while you are away and medical requirements. They also require yearly vaccinations and will restrict the amount of time you can leave them each day.”

Rachel Spencer, a freelance journalist who founded The Paw Post site, agrees that researching the breeds of pet, especially if you are looking to buy a dog, should be 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.”

Handpick a breeder or shelter

It is important that you 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.

Evita Wilson, the marketing manager at UK Pets, which is a quarterly magazine focusing on how our pets create a big and meaningful impact on our lives, 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, 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.”

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 action 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 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 a small breed dog as they are easier to look after than the larger breeds.

Nina Cole, adds, “I would suggest either a small breed that is manageable on lead or a cat since they are relatively self-sufficient and not as expensive to keep. Contrary to popular belief, cats make wonderful companions, and most will love to snuggle during the winter months, making great lap warmers.”

Consider adopting a dog

If you’ve decided you would like to get a dog in your retirement, then adopting one is a great option.

Rachel Spencer said: “I would also urge you to consider adopting a dog from a shelter as there are so many dogs who need homes through no fault of their own.

Many people believe dogs end up in rescue because of behavioural problems but this isn’t the case.

“Some are there as owners who might have passed, relocated abroad or had a change in personal circumstances.

“The benefits of this are that they are most likely to have been house trained, health checked, microchipped, had a basic level of training and you will be given support from the rescue.

“Dogs of all breeds can be found in rescue and you can avoid paying large sums of money, most ask for a donation of around £150, and you’re giving an animal in need a second chance at happiness.”

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 magazine recommends the following checks to make:

• 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


What are the benefits of owning a pet?

Pets improve your health

Pets have been known to improve our mental health with lots of studies showing that pets can have a calming effect on us and lower stress levels.

Owning a pet in retirement will also encourage you to get out more and therefore improving your physical health as well as reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Ingrid King from the Conscious Cat discusses the various health benefits pets can have on an older person with mobility problems.

“There have been many studies that show that owning a cat or dog are good for us. According to research discussed in this news report, people with pets save the Australian health service about $880 million per year and save Germany about $6.6 billion per year. The research found that people with pets need fewer visits to their doctor each year, have fewer sleeping difficulties, are less likely to need medications for heart conditions. A study showed that both cats and dogs  reduced stress-related blood pressure more than ace inhibitor medication, and a study at the University of Minnesota found that cats, in particular, may reduce chances of a heart attack by 40%.”

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!

Pets not only provide their owners with companionship; 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.”

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 help in your daily routine.

“Having a pet gives you a focus in your daily routine and especially cats & 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.”

To recap, here are the main benefits of owning a pet in retirement for older people with mobility issues:

  • Pets improve your health
  • You can make new friends!
  • Pets can cheer you up

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 own 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.
  • 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 vacation, 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.

Image credits: Jackie Tucker Photography

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