The research is clear: owning a pet can lower heart rate and blood pressure, reduce stress, and ease depression and loneliness. In one study, seniors who owned pets visited the doctor less frequently than their non pet owning counterparts.
Beyond the academic studies, pets are simply good companions. They love us no matter what we look like, what kind of mood we’re in, or what kind of day we’ve had. They think we’re wonderful even if we’ve gained ten pounds or haven’t dusted the living room for a month.
On the other side of the coin, owning a pet requires a commitment of your time, energy, and money. Being a good pet owner takes some knowledge and planning.
People who get a pet on impulse sometimes regret their decision. For instance, I once bought a fluffy little black-and-white rabbit on sale at a pet store. My adoration faded quickly when I got her home and discovered that rabbits will chew on anything that doesn’t move. Mine ate her way through a library book, my favorite pair of jeans, the comforter on my bed, and very nearly an electric cord before I gave her to a friend of mine who loves rabbits and knows how to care for them.
Be smarter than I was. Even if you think you’ve fallen in love with an animal, take a few moments to ask yourself some questions before you whip out your checkbook.
Am I healthy enough to care for this animal?
There are several health-related issues to consider. Some pets like goldfish are relatively low maintenance and might be perfect for you if you tire easily. Others, like large dogs, require a significant amount of time and energy and would probably wear you out.
Very small pets like hamsters, gerbils, and mice may be difficult to handle if you have arthritis in your hands.
If you are prone to falls, you might want to consider adopting an older, more sedate animal. Kittens and puppies are adorable, but they can dart between your feet and trip you.
In general, smaller dogs (e.g, terriers, pugs, etc.), mature cats, and smaller birds seem to make the best pets for seniors.
Do I have enough money to care for this animal?
Adopting a pet means you accept responsibility for its feeding, grooming, exercise, housing, and health. Pet food alone can easily add up to several hundred dollars a year, as can one or two vet visits if your pet becomes ill.
Is my lifestyle conducive to owning a pet?
If you travel a lot or are rarely at home, you may want to rethink bringing an animal into your life at this time. Animals, like people are social animals. Even the most aloof of cats doesn’t want to be left alone indefinitely.
What kind of pet do I want?
Do you consider yourself a cat person or a dog person? Or maybe you’ve always wanted a rabbit, or bird, or guinea pig, or something else entirely. Before making a final decision, go online, research the care your pet will require, and decide honestly whether you can provide it.
Do I need a pure bred? Getting a pet is a very individual decision, but it has always made me sad to see people shell out hundreds of dollars for a pure bred dog or cat while perfectly beautiful mongrels and alley cats languish in shelters. Consider adopting a mixed breed, hard-to-place (e.g., older) animal. You can save its life and at the same time improve your own life considerably.