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Plan for Your Pet's Care

Pets have been shown to be good for seniors.  Over the past 20 years or so numerous studies have shown the benefits sharing life with a pet can have for a variety of populations, including seniors.  Pets provide constant companionship and social support that family members sometimes can’t.  They also serve as “social lubricants”, making it easier to connect with other people.  Studies have shown that people are more likely to start a conversation or approach a person with a pet, compared to a non-pet owner.  And dog owners have been shown to walk more and be more active than non-dog owners, which is a big health benefit.

But there is another side of the coin.  We personally are dealing with that other side right now.  Dan’s parents have reached an age where they can no longer care for themselves or for their elderly dog.  The family is preparing to move them into some type of care facility, but finding a place for Joey is a problem.  He’s a big dog and not always friendly to everyone or to other dogs so it’s unlikely he’d be allowed to accompany his owners to a care facility.

Some seniors, or their family members, are reluctant to acquire a pet because of their concern about what will happen to the pet if the pet outlives them or if they can no longer care for the animal, as in Joey’s case.  While such fears shouldn’t necessarily rule out pet ownership for seniors, those concerns deserve serious family discussions.  One possibility is to adopt an older pet that would be expected to have a shorter life span, a choice that also comes with pros and cons.

A recent study found that age alone didn’t determine one’s ability to provide a quality life for an animal.  Other factors such as lifestyle, living environment (pets living with elderly owners in urban environments tended to receive better care) and sources of support were more important influences on how well seniors can provide pet care.

As with many senior care issues, having a plan ahead of time can prevent the type of dilemma we are now facing with Joey.  What support will the senior owner have to care for the pet now and in the future?   Can other family members commit to “adopting” the pet if the owners must relocate to an assisted living or a nursing facility?   Who will be designated to make health care decisions in line with what the senior owner wants for the pet in the event the owner is unable to do so?

We are having to find answers to those questions now, a little late in the game.  Pre-planning is so much better for everyone rather than having to make decisions in a crisis situation when choices may be much more limited.  We don’t yet know what solution will be found for Joey.  But we hope our experiences will serve as a reminder for everyone to include planning for your pet’s care when you are planning for the “what ifs” or “what whens” for your own care.


The content of this article and the opinions expressed are solely those of Animal Behavior Associates, Inc and/or the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of AARP or any of its affiliates. 


Dr. Suzanne Hetts and her husband Dr. Dan Estep are Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists. They provide professional behavior education services online, and resources to prevent and resolve pet behavior problems to both pet pros and pet owners. Coral, their diva-dog Irish setter provides daily inspiration.,

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