For many older adults, a fur baby (or pet companion) is the perfect addition to their new and more carefree lifestyle. Never having owned a pet before, some find that having a pet provides company for this new, “downsized” version of life. With so many places offering pet-friendly travel options and seat belts in cars for dogs (along with so many other options) having a pet at this time of life is ideal For others, the family pet represents the last vestige of our previous life as a busy, working parent and that time “the kids begged us for a dog” but have since packed up and left home. Your family pet might soon be ready to “move on” and so are you, but in a different way – ready to embrace a lifestyle that would allow you to travel with ease or meet friends for coffee without having to rush home to feed the cat! You might even be starting to resent old Rover. Being “pawrents” of a fur baby requires commitment, cash and care but provides plenty of love, laughter, physical exercise and companionship in return. What kind of pet parent are you, reluctant or rejoicing?
Veterinarians across North America have reported a significant increase in the number of people who are now pet owners. Finding dogs and cats online has both never been easier and never been more challenging. That is to say many dogs are being bred, and long waiting lists exist in some areas, while in others, many families found it hard to cope during the pandemic and dogs, cats and kittens are being surrendered in large numbers. To paraphrase a very popular book from your parenting years, here’s “What to Expect When You’re Pondering Pet Parenting.”
What to Expect When You’re Pondering Pet Parenting:
- Veterinarian expenses:
Vets are called doctors for a reason. They’ve gone to school for between 6-8 years and they are literally responsible for the health and well-being of your pet in the same way a family dr. is responsible for yours. All that – AND they are dealing with a patient who can’t tell them what’s wrong. Perhaps understandably, a visit to the vet will be expensive. Both cats and canines require annual shots, protection from rabies, heartworm, ticks and other dangers and if they get sick (especially during non-office hours) you will be looking at a hefty bill for emergency care. Sometimes difficult decisions need to be made about your baby, including whether to prolong or end their suffering. These will bring up a range of emotions and you will experience grief. So being mentally prepared for both the costs and emotions that come with pet parenting should be a big part of any considerations.
Offsetting potential expenses, a variety of pet insurance options are now available to consumers to help when accident or illness strikes. Plan to spend time thoroughly investigating what the plans do and don’t cover and what the deductibles are. As well, most plans won’t cover the routine expenses of regular shots, special dietary requirements or wellness visits. If you are enjoying your retirement years, but living on even a moderately restricted income, pet insurance or the cost of an accident or illness, could really impact your budget.
- Food, Clothing and Accessories:
Yes, clothing! These days it’s becoming harder to spot the dog without a sweater, jacket or boots on than it is those sporting one. Outfits for animals range from the sublime to the ridiculous and costs do too! Everyone from your local discount retailer to high end retail fashion houses now offer designer duds for cats and dogs. As for accessories, from cat climbers to dog beds; faux two story mini-homes, food bowls that are personalized and monogrammed, matching leashes, collars and seat belts for cars – your pet baby might reasonably be considered better dressed than you are! Did you know that dog strollers exist? Strollers….for dogs……aren’t dogs for strolling? Isn’t that why some of us mature adults buy a dog in the first place – to force ourselves to go for nice long strolls in the park or around our neighbourhood? If you’re buying a dog to help encourage you to exercise more, just pretend you didn’t read that last sentence. Finally, when it comes to food here too you will find the days of feeding your pet scraps from the dinner table are long gone. You can get vegetarian food for animals or on the flip side, put your pet on a raw food (raw meat!) diet. There’s natural and organic food, food made with or without additives and speciality food for just about every type of issue from overweight pets to pets with chronic gastro infections. Some of these speciality foods can also be hard on the budget, as they don’t come cheap. Something else to consider when your considering pet parenting.
What’s the Upside?
If you’re still with me, perhaps it’s out of a genuine curiosity about whether I’ll mention the upside of being a pet parent. It’s a fair question to ask, “Why would I spend all this money on an animal?” The truth is, until you’ve been a pet parent, you honestly don’t know what you are missing!
You can cuddle up with your fur baby on the couch any time you need to be consoled, feel lonely, just want some snuggles or you want a companion for your daily exercise. Dogs are always there to welcome you home, cover you with kisses, bark with joy to share how much they missed you and will be your loyal companion through the good and the bad. They ask for nothing in return except perhaps to be fed!
Some dogs might travel well and be happy to accompany you on holidays and with so many places becoming more “pet-friendly” these days, that’s easier than ever to do. Some dogs, like mine for example, are happy enough to ride in the kayak but only if we lift him in and out of it because he doesn’t actually like water! I think cats also make loyal companions and they are certainly less maintenance for a senior pet owner but the thing with most cats is you never can tell. They may – or may not – curl up for a cuddle when you need them most but at least a cat is someone to talk to without sounding like you’re talking to yourself!
- They offer a reduced risk of heart attacks due in part to lowered cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure often found in seniors with pets.
- They encourage physical activity with many studies suggesting older adults with dogs walk an average of one hour longer per day than those without.
- They encourage us to get up, get organized and go about our day in a more structured way than if we were alone and had no one to encourage us. Active, organized and structured seniors are keeping both their mind and body engaged and working hard. In turn, this can help stave off the onset of certain diseases and even help to reduce anxiety and depression.
Of course there are many other creatures of comfort that we haven’t talked about. You might find solace in the sing-song of birds and enjoy watching and interacting with them – the perfect pet perhaps for a more isolated living situation where getting outside is a little more challenging. Some folks love fish and having a beautiful (whether small or large) aquarium in your home or condo can provide endless hours of calm as you watch them swim about the perfectly balanced little mini seascape you’ve created for them. You may even be the type that embraces your fearless side, filling your space with snakes, or reptiles, or even spiders! I’ll admit that would be a sure fire way to keep me from visiting but I’m sure there’s a certain charm. I’m not sure what the charm is mind you but low maintenance is a plus!
The truth is pets bring us joy but it can be hard to explain to others why that is. I think it’s because it’s hard to put a price on love. The kind of pure, unfiltered love that an animal offers is unquantifiable. They don’t question our decisions, they don’t talk back to us like our teenagers used to do, and mostly all they want from us is food, water and your good company. For many older adults, good company is all we are really looking for. I’m going to go out on a limb here and summarize that most of us pet parents are the last thing from reluctant – we’re rejoicing!