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The most loyal of friends

There is nothing like a pet to take the edge off a bad day.

Sun Advocate publisher

A pet should always fit the lifestyle of the person choosing it

There is nothing like a pet to take the edge off a bad day. Depending on the animal,the relationship one has with them can turn things around in a moment.

But the right pet for anyone may not be obvious to someone who is looking. It is easy to get caught up in color, breed, and how cute they are.

For seniors pets can be more than just a companion, they can be a life giver. But it all depends on the individual and their likes and dislikes. Pets are around when a person needs support, they can provide protection for those living alone, they're always willing to lend an ear to problems, and many tend to offer unconditional love.

Seniors facing an empty nest or the loss of a spouse may find pets can buoy their spirits. Studies have shown that seniors can benefit both mentally and physically from having a pet around. Pets can alleviate anxiety, depression and boredom.

They also are a great responsibility. As a senior pet owner, that person holds a life in their hands. The life of that pet can be good or it can be bad, depending on the care they get and the way they are treated.

The interesting thing is that many pets remain loyal to their companion even when things are not good.

Seniors should find an animal that will fit in with their lifestyles. This is an important consideration for those seniors who travel frequently or have mobility issues. In addition, men and women living in senior communities or assisted living facilities should determine if there are any pet restrictions in place.

The first question to ask is what kind of pet. Obviously dogs and cats are the largest group of animals that people pick for pets. But there are others, and some may fit certain lifestyles better than the typical ones.


Those seniors who have decided that a dog will be the best fit can choose among several breeds that may be a good match for their needs. When selecting a dog, consider both size and temperament. Smaller dogs tend to be easier to handle and will need less maintenance. They are easily carried and won't take as long to bathe and groom. Smaller dogs also consume less food than larger breeds, reducing the expense of dog food and the hassle of wrangling large, heavy bags of chow.

Temperament is also important, as some breeds tend to be more easygoing than others. In many cases larger breeds may be preferable to a smaller breeds, which tend to be hyperactive. However, always remember there are pros and cons to each breed, and each dog will demonstrate its own personality traits.

One needs to think a lot about what a dog will need. Are they the kind of breed that needs a lot of room to roam and play or can they be confined to a small area or even mostly indoors.

It's important to understand dogs capacities for getting into things too. Dogs, particularly some breeds, are highly intelligent. They can figure out a lot of ways to either get out of somewhere or get into it if there is a reason and that reason is often something to eat.

Here are some ideas for dogs seniors can be comfortable with, but remember too that this list is not exclusive.

•Pug. Equally playful and willing to be a lap dog, the pug requires little exercise and grooming. The breed is typically non aggressive and submissive. Pugs are good-natured and playful; they don't often bark and are easy to train.

•Shih Tzu. The Shih Tzu lives for attention, but this breed can be dominant and difficult to train. The Shih Tzu will be alert to its surroundings and, despite its small stature, can be a good watchdog.

•Pomeranian. Pomeranians look like big balls of fur and can bring a smile to an owner's face. The breed tends to be perky, can display dominance and can be difficult to train. Because Pomeranians can be dog-aggressive, they may be best as the only pet in the house.

•Yorkshire terrier. The Yorkie is a diminutive breed in size only, as they tend to have exuberant personalities that dwarf their stature. The ideal lap dog, Yorkies want to lie around and lounge, though some do like to bark. If the fur is kept short in a "puppy cut," the dog can be easy to maintain.

•Pembroke Welsh Corgi. This medium-sized dog hails from Wales and typically requires only moderate exercise and little grooming. They are easy to train and moderately dominant. They don't bark excessively, and they often get along with other dogs.

•Schnauzer. Available in three sizes, Schnauzers are good companions and protectors. This is an intelligent and loyal breed and will need to be kept amused to stave off boredom.

•Brussels Griffon: These dogs do not shed, but they will require professional grooming at least once every 3 months. If socialized early, the Griffon can be a good companion but will likely remain wary of strangers. They are good watchdogs and devoted to their owners.

•Labrador Retrievers: Often considered the most popular dog to own in the county they can be good dogs for seniors, but they do get large. That can be a problem for people who are frail. They also can be aggressive although they are seldom mean dogs. They are extremely loyal, but often so friendly that they will go with anyone. A large yard is needed for this breed.

While there are always exceptions, some kinds of dogs are not compatable with senior lifestyles. Depending on the health of the person and ability to get around, dogs like Siberian Huskies, Border Collies and other hyperactive larger species are difficult to keep happy if people can't get out with them regularly.

And while small dogs almost always fit into senior lifestyles, dogs such as Great Pyrenees, Great Danes and Saint Bernards, while good dogs can be too large to handle. They can be a handful even for younger people!


Cats make great companions for seniors for many reasons.

As with all kinds of pets they can give seniors meaning in life, something to care for. They can bring great joy and usually at minimum effort in terms of care. The care cats do require can provide much-needed exercise for older owners. Even seniors who have arthritis or other physical limitations can easily care for cats. Cat are requires scooping their boxes, feeding them and giving them fresh water. They get people up and moving which is a good thing. Cat care also establishes a routine which is a good thing for many older people.

Unlike many dog breeds, cats are usually happy staying indoors all the time. This can be a real benefit especially to people who live in apartments.

Most adult cats require only 20 to 30 minutes of playtime per day. They can be toyed with by using something as simple as a string or a flashlight with a narrow beam. Cats like to spend a lot of time in peoples laps so they are usually close by.

When getting a cat there are some things to think about. How long a cat will live is one aspect that needs to be considered. Depending on the age of the person getting the animal there may come a time when they can no longer care for it. That means there needs to be someone that would be willing to take it on. Seniors can become very unhappy if they have to give up their animals to strangers. Also consider what could happen if the animal dies. Many seniors become very close to their animals and a death can have a serious affect on them.

Next think about the age of the cat being sought. Young cats (and dogs as well) take some time to train, particularly house train. This can cause a lot of stress on the person taking care of it. If they are not up to it find a young adult cat or one in midlife that has been trained already. Often people have to give up animlals for a variety of reasons. Pick carefully though; no one needs a troublemaker in their house.

This leads to thinking about the temperment of a cat. If it is being adopted from an animal shelter talk to the people that have been taking care of the cat. If a private owner is giving it up, help them to understand the kind of home the cat might be going to and ask them to be honest about its habits and moods.

Once the cat has been selected and brought home make sure all the necessary supplies to take care of it are on hand. And for those helping out seniors be sure to check back frequently in the beginning to see there are no problems coming up.


Seniors who decide to adopt birds need to consider a number of things.

First of all a bird is not a cat or a dog. They often do interface with people well, but they give love and companionship of a different kind than the furry creatures do.

Again care and upkeep are important. Cleaning a bird cage is not the most pleasant of tasks, but probably no worse than cleaning cat boxes.

Remember that all birds need fresh water daily, food (of the type they like to eat) and their cages need to be cleaned regularly.

Also birds are not like cats and dogs. They don't adapt as well to the cold or heat as well as the light. They need darkness at night and direct sunlight usually is not good for them.

There are a number of breeds that can be adopted, but they are different from one another and may require different kinds of food and care.

•Yellow Canaries. Yellow Canaries are small in size. These are good birds to watch, but not so much for handling. Big cages are important to these birds because they like to fly. They live up to about five years.

•Grey Cockatiel. These birds are bigger than Yellow Canaries. These birds generally like to be picked up and doted over. Females are usually quieter and more loving. Males will talk and whistle. These birds do best in a group or a colony and females co-exist better with each other than males do.

•Finch. Finches are small in size. They very are active birds that do better when being watched rather than being handled. They like to live in colonys (females with females are the best) and they need big cages because they need to fly.

•Lovebird. Lovebirds are also small in size. As their name denotes they like to be picked up and stoked. The standard picture of lovebirds is that a person needs two of them for them to be happy, but that is not necessarilly true. These birds have longevity on their side often living well over 15 years.

•Parakeet. Parakeets are small in size and the males can be talkers, repeating things they hear said in the home. They can live a long time (up to 20 years). Like all birds they like some toys to play with particularly bells. Mirrors are usually good for all birds.

Other pets

There are a variety of other pets that seniors can take on including rabbits, some reptiles and others. More exotic pets are usually not good for older seniors because of the special care they need. Also some animals are not very "user friendly" like standard animals are.

Whatever pets seniors have they should want and enjoy. Pets should never be forced on them nor should they be expected to take care of others pets unless they are truly up to it.

(Sources for this article include Yahoo voices and Pet Partners)

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