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Dogs, cats and other cute fluffy creatures

The pros and cons of owning a pet as a retiree

By Ania Szmyd-Potapczuk

, |

Dogs, cats and other cute fluffy creatures

The pros and cons of owning a pet as a retiree

By Ania Szmyd-Potapczuk

, |

3 min read

Owning a pet offers many health and emotional benefits. Not only can pet ownership reduce stress, but pets also provide companionship and purpose. However, there are several reasons why pet ownership may not be suitable for everyone, so it’s vital to weigh up the pros and cons before committing to owning a pet.

Advantages of pet ownership

Owning a pet can help reduce loneliness, which is a prevalent condition among seniors. If you live in a retirement village, you may not lack for potential friends, but you may find that – once you are alone in your unit – you need someone around, and a dog or cat can offer the security of another warm body, and also give lots of affection and cuddles. Having a dog almost forces you get out every day, and you will find that most people you come across will stop to say hi to your pooch, which is likely to start up a conversation.

Research has also shown that owning a pet can encourage heart health and reduce stress. Pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure, and even the simple act of stroking your pet can bring down your pulse and kick-start the secretion of feel-good hormones in the brain.

Disadvantages of pet ownership

While pets can add a lot to your quality of life, there are times when owning a pet just isn’t right for your situation.

One of the most surprising risk factors of pet ownership is that they can increase your risk of a fall. The CDC estimates that around 1% of all falls are pet-related, though these falls aren’t classified as incapacitating or severe. If you’re prone to falling or have poor bone health, consider having a pet that you can keep out of the way, such as a bird or rabbit, instead of a dog or cat.

Pet ownership also isn’t cheap. Routine costs include feeding and grooming, which will add around R1,000 to your monthly bill. The cost of regular medical care is relatively low, but you should also budget for medical emergencies, which can cost tens of thousands of rands. If you do buy an active pet, such as a cat or dog, consider pet insurance, which will cover most medical costs – some even cover routine vaccinations and flea control.

Finally, there is always the concern about outliving your pet. Dogs and cats can live up to 20 years, meaning that they’re a significant investment in both time and emotion, and their loss can be devastating to seniors.

Some retirement villages have a policy that you can bring your pet along with you when you move in, but won’t allow you to replace it when it passes away. While you may not feel the need to replace your pet immediately after its death, you may find yourself lacking in companionship with no recourse to adopt another pet. Consider speaking to your HOA or body corporate about offering pet therapy if they’re not willing to allow pets in the estate.

Frosty Face Fostering Programme

Adopting a long-lived pet is a concern for seniors. What happens if you move into a retirement estate that doesn’t allow pets? Or what happens if you die before the pet does? Many seniors aren’t willing to take on the responsibility of dealing with a boisterous young puppy, especially if there’s a risk that they won’t be able to care for it until the end of its life.

A novel approach to solving this problem is the Frosty Face Fostering Programme offered by the Cape Dachshund group. The programme is an open-ended fostering initiative in which the person will foster a senior dog, either until either the dog dies or until the person’s circumstances change dramatically. The group will pay for any medical expenses, though the fosterer will have to pay for essential costs such as food.

Questions to ask

Owning a pet brings many tangible and intangible benefits, but also introduces some new risks and hurdles. Ask yourself these questions to evaluate whether or not your current living situation is the right time to adopt a pet:

  • Do I have the time? Pets need love and commitment. If you’re spending your retirement globetrotting, a pet may not be right for you.
  • Can I afford it? Pet care is expensive. Check your budget and allow for emergency expenses. If you can’t afford it, consider fostering instead of adoption.
  • What pet would work for me? There’s a wide variety of pets that are suitable for different situations. Small animals such as hamsters or fish make great pets for people who want a quiet, contained animal. If you don’t want to deal with the energy of a puppy or kitten, consider adopting a senior pet instead.

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