Aware Senior Care Blog
Gary Simmons of A Hand to Hold in Atlanta, GA provides solutions for seniors that want to keep their animal companions, but are unable to maintain their well-being.
By Gary Simmons
Pets are an important part of our lives. There are many benefits that can come with pet ownership: Lower blood pressure and stress, pets can keep the brain and body active, and it can also stave off depression. The devotion and love pets provide may not be tangible, but are no less important.
Pets are much healthier with a routine and there are many tasks to perform every day, every week, every year to maintain it. The financial aspect of pet ownership can be costly (especially if the pet has ailments), but I’m sure most owners would agree the value of companionship is worth the cost.
So, what happens when an elder relative can no longer maintain a pet themselves? It’s a difficult transition, but there are ways to ensure the connection is unbroken.
The first thing that must be determined is whether a senior can take care of a pet themselves, or if they might simply need some assistance.
Keep an eye out for signs that may indicate the owner is not adequately caring for the pet:
- Is there indication of waste buildup? Are Litter boxes unemptied, is there dog waste and/or urine stains in the house? The situation is embarrassing and unhealthy, as well as dangerous for both the animal and the senior.
- Are the pets gaining or losing weight? Does the senior no longer provide food regularly, possibly leaving out an open bag of food in lieu of refilling a bowl or not remembering to fill a bowl more than every other day?
- Is the water dish frequently empty?
- Does the animal exhibit new behavior problems? Escaping and running away during a walk is stressful for the owner and dangerous for the pet. Aggressive behavior could indicate stress in the pet and can be extremely upsetting for the owner.
Any of these signs could indicate that the senior might need assistance in keeping their pet healthy and happy.
- A neighbor stopping by to fill the food/water dishes
- Arranging for a veterinary house call or hiring a dog walking service.
This could mean the difference between keeping a beloved companion or having to give it up. An in-home care provider can provide support and check-in regularly to ensure that the various tasks and upkeep that pets require are completed. Sometimes, merely making certain that a litter box is clean or that fresh water is available is all that is needed to keep a pet healthy and happy. Regular walks, a trip to the vet, even making certain that medication is out of the reach of a questing muzzle are just some ways that an attentive assistant can help a senior retain ownership of their pet.
If none of the various options work out, it may be time for the senior to give up their pet. This is never an easy decision, but there are still ways to maintain a connection, in some cases. Sending the pet to live with family or friends who can provide for it and bring it around to visit periodically is an excellent way for a senior to continue a bond with their pet.
Sometimes, such proximity is unfeasible, though and there is simply no way for a senior to keep interacting with their pets—a realization that can worsen health and cognition. Fortunately, several organizations exist that provide therapy animals, including ones that are tasked specifically to be pet and played with. Many seniors have benefited greatly from just the presence of a friendly animal, even if only as a temporary substitute. Therapy animals serve a socialization function as well: often seniors will talk to the animals about things they may not share with assistants and relatives, or will talk with other people about their own pets.
If a pet had to be removed due to its own infirmity or due to its being too difficult to take care of, it may behoove the senior to replace it with a more manageable animal. Perhaps a smaller dog would be easier to walk, or perhaps an older dog would be more willing sit quietly in the shade with its owner. Perhaps a cat would be suitable, an older sedentary guinea pig, a bird, or even a fish or two. It is important for the senior to recognize their own activity level and the level of devotion they can realistically provide, of course. Working with a therapy animal expert may point them in the direction of their perfect new companion.
The author is Gary Simmons, Senior Content Manger for A Hand to Hold – The premier leader of in-home care services for Atlanta and its surrounding areas. He is deeply committed to the company’s mission of helping seniors stay in their homes and be well cared for.