How to Choose the Best Pet for a Senior Loved One

At our Poet’s Walk memory care assisted living facilities, we have seen how much our PAW (“Pets Are Welcome”) program enhances the lives of our resident seniors. The benefits of having a pet, especially for a senior with dementia, have been well documented by studies and witnessed among our team of caregivers. While it’s easy to see the benefits that a pet can have on an elderly loved one, it is important to consider the types of pet that may be best suited to their unique needs and personality.

How to Choose a Senior-Friendly Pet

Just like human beings, animals have all sorts of personalities, quirks, and challenges. It is important to pair your loved one with a pet that they will be compatible with, keeping both your loved one and the animal happy and secure. Here are some of the most important considerations as you search for the best pet for your loved one:

Personality – While some animals are very energetic, others are more mellow. It is important to consider how much energy and attention they will be able to afford their pet. Different animals offer different personalities, just as different breeds, and it is important to introduce your loved one to the animal before agreeing to take it home with you.

Age of Animal 

  • Puppies and kittens are adorable, but they do require more care than adult dogs and cats. They are much more energetic, and if they are very young, may need to be house or litter trained; something a senior may not have the energy to do.
  • Adult animals have established personalities, more stable diets, and aren’t filled with frenetic energy like younger animals, meaning they are typically easier to care for.
  • While a senior may feel a bit of a connection to an older animal, aging pets are more prone to incontinence and illness and tend to require more visits to the vet. Unless you are available to assist, elder animals may be a bit too demanding for your elderly loved one.

Type of Animal

Senior-Friendly PetsCats. Generally more independent creatures, cats use a litter box and groom themselves. However, they will need scratching posts and regular claw trimming. While some cats are very vocal and have lots of energy, there are more mellow breeds, such as Ragdolls and Persians. It is important to consider the fact that many cats can bring about allergies, although there are hypoallergenic options.

Birds. The most common pet birds are canaries, cockatiels, and budgies. While many bird owners love the lively and chatty nature of birds, to some, they can be rather annoying. Cages will also require frequent maintenance, another factor to consider.

Fish. Tank accessories and maintenance can be costly, depending on the type of fish you get for your loved ones. However, they can be beautifully calming to watch and care for. For seniors looking for more interaction, fish may not be the best option.

Dogs. Dogs tend to be very popular, because of their personalities and upbeat temperaments. Unsurprisingly, it is important to consider that they do need to be walked and occasionally bathed, but they tend to make great companions for seniors.

Best Dog Breeds for Older Adults

There are so many dog breeds – and corresponding personalities – but the best dog for an elderly widow with dementia may not be the best dog for a physically active senior couple who loves the outdoors. Here are some of the best breeds of dog for seniors.

  • Pugs don’t need a lot of exercise and are small and affectionate. They are very popular because of their adorable nature and charm as well as their low-maintenance qualities.
  • Poodles are one of the most intelligent breeds and have hypo-allergenic fur, which is great for those with allergies. They are normally very easy to train but do need occasional grooming.
  • Boston Terriers are definitely “people” dogs. They are content to simply hang out close to their owners and are a nice, manageable size.

Other Great Companion Dogs for elderly individuals

Shih Tzus, Pomeranians, and Yorkshire Terriers are small and don’t require much exercise beyond their daily walks and indoor play.  However, these smaller toy dogs are known to be barkers and their coats do need grooming. For seniors, another consideration very well may be their health. Many breeds, such as golden retrievers, can be trained to detect drops in blood sugar or can assist in those who have lost their eyesight. Speak with a doctor if you believe your loved one may benefit from a trained therapy dog.

These are simply general observations about pets and senior-friendly animals. Make sure that you and your loved one can meet and interact with the animal you are thinking of taking home before making the final decision. Have any questions about companion pets or our PAW programContact us – we’re happy to help!