Do Your Parents Really Need a Pet and Does That Mean You’re on Pet Sitting Duty?
This month we’ve been talking a lot with our audience of dedicated Amintro users about pet parenthood for older adults. Some days as we crawl out of bed slowly, yawning and stretching out tired muscles it might feel like that term “older adults” it’s directed at you but it really isn’t – we promise! Rather, our focus is on your parents and maybe even your grandparents and why (or why not) they might want to invite a pet into their home, condo or adult lifestyle community. You should help them make the decision because after all, it could very well impact you when your folks head out of town and call you to “pet sit” the dog, cat, fish, snake or goodness only knows what!
One of the reasons that Amintro exists is to help like-minded 50+ adults make new friends who share common interests whether they live across the hall, across town or around the world. Pets are often something folks bond over and talking about our fur babies, even sharing pictures, for some pet parents is the equivalent of sharing pics of the grandkids. There are plenty of positive points to owning a pet but there are some downsides too. That’s why Amintro, in addition to serving as a free platform to connect engaged older adults, also offers a variety of articles, blogs, webinars and information of value to mature adults and the families who love and care for them. If your parent has been thinking about pet ownership, or if you’ve been thinking maybe they’d like a cat for company, consider these Pros and Cons to pet parenting.
Pets are companions. It’s very true that pets of any kind, fur covered, water-dwelling or even slippery skinned, do provide an outlet for seniors. They are motivational in that they require care, meaning in addition to companionship, they give some seniors who may need a little extra boost in spirits, a reason to get up in the morning if for no other reason than to feed and care for the newest addition to the home.
Great exercise. While this applies mostly to dogs, the fact is walking a dog at least two times a day is a great excuse to get outdoors, get some exercise and perhaps even meet and make new friends in the community.
Doing a good thing. Dogs come in all shapes and sizes – shelter and rescue organizations are always looking for good homes – so no matter the abilities of the older adult in your life, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find a great match for Mom or Dad. Senior dogs are often the last to be considered for adoption but might be just the right “speed” for the older adult in your life. On the other hand, if Mom and Dad are young at heart and living an active, healthy lifestyle, a new puppy with lots of energy might be just what they need to keep up with them!
Travel-friendly. Many smaller dogs are welcomed in hotels around the world, on airplanes and even on patios at cafes and restaurants meaning you might not ever need to pet-sit because Fido can go along on the trips your parents are planning during their retirement years.
Veterinary Expenses. Remind your parents to consider their current lifestyle and income. Those on a more fixed income might prefer a relatively “low maintenance” pet that is less likely to result in expensive care. There are no guarantees in life – any animal has the potential to get into the garbage and eat something it shouldn’t have or even break a bone requiring emergency care but some are less likely than others! It isn’t just emergency care either but also the cost of regular veterinary care such as wellness visits, flea and tick medications, annual vaccinations and more.
Living Restrictions. If your family member has already downsized into an alternate style of living there may be new rules they haven’t thought about. Condominiums often restrict both the style and size of pet and adult lifestyle communities will almost certainly have their own policies. If your parents are “snowbirds” remind them they should be familiar with both their “home” and “away” living arrangements and ensure that both are welcoming to furry family members.
Other Expenses. It’s possible that “back in the day” if you had a family pet, feeding scraps from the table was good enough. These days however, there are so many options for feeding our pets and some of them can really add up. Raw food diets, gluten/grain free, wet food or dry food or both. It may be that a little education might be required! As well, depending again on lifestyle, they will want to consider the cost of other items such as: leashes, collars, safe car travel options like pet friendly seat buckles, a crate for housing them and training purposes. There are pet beds, food and water dispensers, life jackets if they own a cottage or boat. Cats usually take care of their own grooming but dogs often need to be brushed frequently and/or groomed.
Travelling with Pets. As mentioned above, no one has to give up travelling because of pets these days but there are special considerations. Snowbirds will want to get familiar with vaccination and travel restrictions when moving from one country to another for a prolonged amount of time. Extra costs could be incurred for a pet friendly hotel and it may limit options too. Some pet friendly locations specify “no large breeds” or “no cats” meaning only a lap dog is truly welcome. Airplanes can be a terrifying experience especially if the pet has to be caged and travel in the bowels of the plane.
The impact on you. Sure it might be your parents that have a pet now and maybe you even encouraged them but what does that mean to you? Are they counting on being able to drop off the dog, cat or fish at a moment’s notice and take off for a long weekend? Are they assuming that you, with a job and a family and a busy life taking the kids to and from soccer practice can just drop everything to look after their newest “baby?” Have a conversation about boundaries and what your parents pet parenthood means to YOU!
While this list of key considerations might be more heavily weighted toward the “Cons” of pet parenthood, it’s simply because putting a value on the “Pros” is much more difficult. Determining the emotional value of bringing a pet into the home is almost unquantifiable. Being awoken by friendly “kisses,” having a companion to talk with throughout the day, for a senior who is alone, these are invaluable to their mental health. A cat (if there are no allergies) is a relatively low maintenance pet for someone more sedentary and a dog, a great reason to get your parents outdoors and on the move. More than anything however, we’ll also remind you about the importance of consent. If you are helping Mom or Dad (or both) to make a decision about pet parenthood, use this guide for your conversation. If you are thinking of gifting your parent with a pet – this is never the time for a surprise gift! Just because you think it might be a valuable addition to their home doesn’t mean they will – having their consent to the gift truly makes it a gift and a treasured family member rather than an obligation or a burden.