Multiple studies show that there are many benefits to owning a pet, whatever your age. However, as we get older, looking after a dog or cat can be physically, financially and emotionally challenging. Here are some of the pros and cons of pet ownership in later years.
Let’s say you’re nearly 70. You’ve enjoyed the companionship of several beloved dogs or cats throughout your life and the death of your last pet a few months ago has left a big empty space in your life. Do you buy or adopt another one, or would you worry too much about what would happen if your pet outlived you? It’s a tricky question with no right or wrong answers, but one that needs careful consideration. And we’re looking at dogs and cats here – fish, birds and smaller furry creatures are arguably not quite so problematic.
Pro: Health benefits
There are many health benefits of owning a dog; among them, exercise and companionship. Taking a dog on daily walks is good for you physically – walking is known to help keep your weight down, reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and help prevent osteoporosis. Walking can also alleviate mild depression; and on the social side, you’ll often meet other dog-owners when you’re out and about.
Most people don’t walk their cats, but studies have shown that cats can boost your well-being (just think of all those funny cat videos viewed by millions online) and stroking them can reduce stress and even lower your blood pressure. Cats are often wonderful companions, particularly human-loving breeds such as Burmese, Siamese, Ragdolls and Birmans.
Pro: Sense of purpose
Being responsible for a pet gives you a sense of purpose and, as mentioned, the opportunity of social interactions with other dog-owners can be important if you live alone. Your pet relies on you for food, water, exercise (in the case of dogs), grooming, shelter, visits to the vet when necessary and lots of loving attention.
Con: Big commitment
Caring for a pet requires commitment, time, energy and money. If you take on an energetic new puppy, be prepared to devote several months to house-training, obedience training, extra cleaning and more. Kittens need to learn how to use a litter tray and can be taught not to climb indoor plants and scratch you or the furniture – again, that takes time and energy. Vets’ bills are never cheap, as you’ll know if you already own an elderly dog or cat. There are insurance policies for older pets – finder.com.au is a useful comparison site – and if you’re starting out with a new pet, check out canstar.com.au. Consider, too, the expense of looking after your pet if you go on holiday or have an unscheduled hospital visit – boarding or in-home pet-sitting can cost anything from $20 to $70 a day.
Con: My pet might outlive me
This is probably the biggest worry for pet-owners in their later years. A recent Australian study showed that of the 62 per cent of people who own pets, only 11.1 per cent are in the 65-plus age bracket. Considering that dogs and cats can live up to the age of 15 and above, it’s an understandable concern, but there are steps you can take if you decide the pros of pet ownership outweigh the cons. For example, ask a trusted family member or friend to ensure they will find your pet a good home (not necessarily theirs) should you die first – and preferably provide funds to do this. You can make a formal arrangement in your will, but make sure you consult a solicitor as it’s a tricky area – this Slater & Gordon article explains why.
What sort of pet is best when you’re 65-plus?
How long is a piece of string? Things to consider, if you’ve made up your mind to welcome a new pet into your life, include:
- Adopting an older dog or cat from the RSPCA or other animal shelter
- Researching different breeds for the most suitable temperament, particularly if you’re getting a puppy or kitten
- How fit and active you are
- Whether you have a yard or garden
- Rules and regulations if you rent a property or live in a retirement village.
For more information about owning a pet in later years, talk to your local vet, check out the resources at rspca.org.au and visit downsizing.com.au for more great lifestyle advice.