Yes, I’ve got a whole series of blogs about the benefits of senior citizen pets. After all, November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month. If you’ve never considered an old dog or old cat to adopt, read on! There’s nothing more endearing than a kitten or a puppy. But they also can be nonstop dynamos, frustrating to predict and a magnet for trouble. Although kittens and puppies can be wonderful fun, nothing matches the deep bond we have developed with our old cat or senior dog buddies over a period of years. Some of the benefits may surprise you. Here’s an excerpt from my “aging pet” books.
BENEFITS OF SENIOR PETS
Mature cats and dogs have many advantages over babies. Probably the biggest advantage is that together you have created a partnership, and already know each other and have adjusted to individual needs and foibles. All the hard work is done. She knows to scratch the scratching post and use the litter box. You trust her not to swing from the drapes or empty the potted palm while you’re away. The dog’s been house trained and tells you when she needs to “go”—and you know just how many hours you can be away from home before she’s in dire straits. She’s learned not to chew the TV remote control or your shoes, except for the old house slipper she’s carried around like a teddy bear since you brought her home 10 years ago. She’s learned to wake you promptly at 6:45 for work, and meets you at the door each evening.
Kitty no longer climbs the Christmas tree, unrolls the toilet paper, and only rearranges your sock drawer if you’re gone overnight and she’s lonely. She reminds you when it’s time for a pill and afternoon nap—for both of you. And she acts like the new grandbaby is her own kitten or puppy, and showers the infant with attention, gentle play, and protective care—dropping favorite toys in the crib, and even putting up with toddler tail tugs with a patient feline purr or doggy wag. Countless children have learned to walk while reaching for the furry shoulder or tempting tail of a cat or dog friend.
In fact, one of the best ways to introduce young children to the positive aspects of dogs and cats is with a calm, patient adult animal. Parents already have their hands full dealing with infants and toddlers, and don’t need the added stress of an in-your-face kitten. Children can share birthdays with the aging pet and still be relatively young when she enters her golden years.
Growing Up Together
It’s not unusual for young people to say that one special cat or dog has always been a part of their life—and in times of family crises or emotional upset, the pet can ease the tension and help heal the pain simply by being there to pet and talk to. The mere presence of a cat or dog that the child loves can help a broken heart, disagreements with siblings or parents, even physical or emotional trauma.
An older pet can be a stabilizing influence on children, teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures, and even act as a social bridge toward making friends with their peers. For example, a child shy of interacting with other children because of a perceived disability often comes out of her shell when accompanied by a furry friend–the dog or cat remains the focus of interaction rather than the child’s “different” look or behavior. Older cats and dogs often are ideal for such relationships, because they aren’t as active as younger pets, may be more patient and have learned what to expect. There’s a benefit to the old pet, too—playing and interacting with children keeps the pet’s brain and body active and youthful.
Old Cats & Dogs Are Great for All Ages!
Studies have shown that contact with cats and dogs offers great physical and emotional health benefits to people, from children and adolescents, to adults and senior citizens.
Couples whose children have left for college and are recent empty nesters can receive great comfort from the presence of a furry companion. People of any age who lose a spouse from divorce or death—but particularly older owners—benefit greatly from a pet’s nonjudgmental love. For instance, petting lowers the blood pressure; and caring for a pet gives owners a purpose to concentrate on beyond the hurt and pain. Playing with and grooming the pet, shopping for litter and food, giving medicine to an old kitty or doggy friend, keeps people connected to the world and other people around them.
Senior Dogs & Cats for Seniors
Old pets are often the companions of aging owners because that old pet has the same problems they’ve got, says William Tranquilli, DVM, a professor and pain specialist at the University of Illinois. “They don’t necessarily want a young pet, they want to do what they can to help their old buddy.” They’re willing to spend the money and often have more time to treat chronic disease to try to make the old animal more comfortable. And because the pets that we love are good for human health, just having a cat or dog around can reduce the trips owners take to their own doctors. Some physicians recommend that heart attack survivors keep a pet, because it increases their survival.
People of all ages, whose human family members live far away, become even more emotionally dependent on the cat. “I’ve met many elderly people whose cat has become the most important thing in their life. It’s a family member, and it may be the only remaining family member,” says Susan Little, DVM, a feline specialist in Ottawa, Canada. Of those pet owners who have a will, 27 percent have included provisions for their pets. Prolonging the pet’s life touches on a host of social and emotional issues.
Old Dogs & Cats Share History
Pets who have spent a decade or more with us have learned what we like and expect—and we’ve learned to anticipate the senior cat’s needs, likes, and dislikes. Over the span of years, we build and then enjoy a comfortable companionship together. Our aging pets share with us our life experiences, successes and failures, joys and sorrows, and they represent milestones in our lives, says Signe Beebe, DVM, a veterinary acupuncturist and herbologist practicing in Sacramento. They may have celebrated with us when we graduated school, married, and had children or grandchildren—or comforted us when we divorced, retired, or lost a spouse. They have been there for us, through everything. The more time we spend together, the greater our affection grows. Our compassion, love, and empathy for each other reach a depth that has no parallel in human existence.
“We share our secret souls with our pets in ways we wouldn’t dare with another human being,” says Dr. Wallace Sife, a psychologist and president of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. “We’re human beings, and love is love. Love for a pet is no different than love for another human being.”
Adopting Old Dogs and Rescuing Old Cats: 8 Reasons to Adopt Senior Cats & Dogs
This time of year, the holidays can prompt yearnings to adopt a new furry wonder. Nothing beats puppies and kittens for fun. But senior citizen pets offer many advantages. Remember that small dogs and cats often live into their mid- to late-teens or early twenties, while larger dogs remain happy and vital at least a decade. Old fogey pets often have lots of love to share, so think about it.
I even wrote my two “aging dog” and “aging cat” care books (now also in hardcover formats!) in honor of senior citizen pets with detailed health and nursing care information. You can also learn about DIY tips for aging pets. Here are 8 benefits I hope will convince you to take a chance on a golden oldie.
Less Initial Cost.
A mature dog or cat has already been spayed or neutered, and had routine vaccinations. Puppies and kittens are magnets for trouble, and suffer more injuries through nonstop play and exploration than sedate older pets.
By the time a dog or cat reaches mature status, health or behavior problems will be apparent. That helps adopters plan and provide ways to keep seniors happy and comfortable rather than being surprised by an unexpected issue. For instance, a Dachshund with a history of back problems can be offered steps and ramps to reach the sofa and a beloved owner’s lap. Even with a health challenge, old fogey pets make wonderful companions.
Puppies and kittens are works-in-progress and hard to predict adult personality. For instance, lap-snugglers as babies may snub cuddles once they grow up. But what you see is what you get with an adult pet. The senior dog or cat personality has been established, making it easier to match your perfect pet requirements. You can choose a dog-loving feline, an active, rugged dog, or a pet willing to lap sit.
Older dogs often have already been trained basic obedience. They know how to “sit” and walk nicely on leash, for example.
The mature dog has fewer urges to act like a juvenile delinquent. They may still have bursts of energy and enjoy playtime. But older dogs won’t be as likely to jump up, “hump” your leg, or knock down the kids trying to race them out the door. Mature felines won’t be as interested in using your head as a launch pad, or your pant leg as a moveable scratch post.
Fewer Behavior Problems.
Puppies and kittens only learn by making mistakes. But a mature pet already knows the rules of the house. An older dog knows not to chew the TV remote or your shoes. She’s been house trained and tells you when she needs to “go.” The mature kitty understands litter box etiquette, no longer climbs the Christmas tree, or swings from the drapes. He knows not to excavate the potted palm or play ping-pong with the parakeet.
Older pets that have been around babies, toddlers and young children already know how to interact. They can be a wonderful choice for a child’s first pet. Dogs especially may “adopt” your human baby, and shower the infant with attention, gentle play, and protective care. They put up with toddler tail tugs with a patient purr or doggy grin. Countless children have learned to walk while grasping the furry shoulder of a canine friend, or reaching out for that tempting feline tail. A mature pet can offer the child a special friend who listens but never tells secrets, a sympathetic purring or wagging presence that acts as a stabilizing influence. Older pets are less fragile than puppies and kittens and can teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures.
Many older people have loved and lived with pets all their lives. But they may worry what might happen should they outlive a newly adopted puppy or kitten. A mature dog or cat offers just as much love but a more manageable number of years that can be more attractive to older owners. Mature cats and dogs have fewer energy needs—they won’t need owners to take them jogging when rolling a ball down the hallway will suffice. Older owners who have fragile skin can also choose mature pets already trained to be careful with claws and play bites. And the older dog—even if not leash trained—isn’t as able to drag the owner around.
Dogs and cats don’t know they’re old. They only know they are loved. There are many advantages to adopting an “old fogey pet” and these special animal companions return your love in unexpected and glorious ways. Refer to these adoption tips to help choose your perfect companion!
Do you have a “golden oldie?” Did you adopt them when they were seniors, or did they grow up and grow old in your home? Karma-Kat is now 9 year’s young. Even my thrillers include older pets–there’s something extra special about these lovely old timers. Why did you choose a mature dog or cat? Do tell!
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!