Seniors who have pets may think of Fluffy or Fido as another grandchild, and treat their cat or dog accordingly. So while a move to assisted living may be warranted in terms of health or mobility, they may balk if it means saying farewell to their beloved canine or feline friend.
Unless they can make the move together.
How Moving with A Pet Helps Seniors Adjust
Relocating can be stressful, especially if someone is leaving their longtime home and friends. Bringing a pet along can help new residents feel at home, and adapt to the new environment more easily.
The trauma of separation can adversely affect both an elder and their animal companion. Fortunately, over the last decade the number of assisted living facilities that permit pets has mushroomed, along with the aging population. Approximately 54 percent of assisted living facilities (ALFs) allow residents to bring their own pet to their new home; 39 percent of ALFs provide a “common pet” for residents, according to the CDC National Survey of Residential Care Facilities.
At Sunrise Senior Living, for example, every community has a resident cat and dog, in addition to any personal pets residents choose to bring when they move in (or that they later adopt). Many of the community pets are carefully selected from local shelters, for their calm temperaments and friendly personalities that make them well suited to seniors.
Health Benefits of Pets
The health benefits of pets, whether a family dog or one loved by the assisted living community as a whole, are well documented. In addition to the physical activity walking a dog or playing with a cat provides, numerous studies show having a pet helps:
- Improve disposition and mood
- Decrease stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Ease pain
- Lower cholesterol
- Enhance social interaction
- Improve immunity
- Soothe sundowning (for people with cognitive impairment)
- Increase motivation
Caveats to Keep in Mind
Of course, dogs, cats, and other pets require care in order to survive and thrive. And there’s the expense: pets must be fed, given appropriate shots, and may require visits to the vet if they become ill or injured.
Before a senior decides to bring their own pet to assisted living — or to adopt one, if the facility allows residents to keep personal pets — it’s important to consider the following:
- How much experience do I have owning a dog/cat/bird, etc?
- Am I able to care for a pet? If you are physically disabled, cats are the best animal to adopt, unless you have (or are considering) a service animal. Another option may be a small dog that is paper-trained, or an indoor bird.
- Is my pet (or potential adopted pet) the right age? An older pet will require less energy. Kittens and puppies require a lot of attention and activity, and may not be allowed per the ALF’s regulations. Also, if you do decide to adopt a young animal, consider its potential life span. Be sure to make contingency plans in the event your pet outlives you.
- Is your pet good-natured? An animal with a relaxed personality is best for a community living setting.
- Is your pet healthy? Before deciding to move with your pet, and especially before deciding to adopt a new animal, have the pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian.
- Do you have the resources to support a pet? Annual pet care can run from a routine $1000/year to upwards of $5000 if your pet develops health issues.
Restrictions An ALF May Impose
Finally, even an assisted living facility that allows pets will likely have certain requirements regarding your animal friend’s admittance. These may include:
- Screening to ensure your dog or cat will fit in with other residents and any community pets;
- Weight, breed, size and age restrictions: you may be permitted to bring an older dog or cat under a certain weight and size, for instance, but puppies and kittens less than a year old may be excluded. Or, dogs and cats may be allowed, but not reptiles or birds;
- A specified trial period to assess how well your pet is adjusting to the community, and vice versa;
- A financial deposit to cover possible pet-related damages (e.g., an accident on the carpet);
- Extra fees to cover services you may not be able to provide at some point during the time you live there, such as dog walking, cleaning kitty litter, bathing your pet, etc. As a general rule, most communities that allow pets expect residents to be able to care for their personal pets, with minimal assistance.
Pets can bring incredible joy and well being to a senior’s life in assisted living. By planning ahead for a move with your beloved pet, your new place can feel just like home.