Fur babies can help make senior years fun

Gerry Venable pets one of his roommate’s four cats in the home he shares with Carol Loper in Los Angeles.
Gerry Venable pets one of his roommate’s four cats in the home he shares with Carol Loper in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Times/MCT

Sometimes seniors think pets are mostly for younger people or families with children, but fur babies can provide several benefits as we age.

For one, there’s companionship. Who doesn’t love knowing there’s a critter waiting for you to get home?

Pets can be mood elevators. Studies show that seniors who own pets have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and a lower risk of heart attack, according to the AARP. And for those who have had a heart attack, a pet can boost chances of long-term survival.

Taking a dog for a walk can be a people magnet. Pet lovers are drawn to other pet lovers, so your prancing pooch can be a way to meet new people. And that regular walk means exercise for you.

Rules of adoption

If you don’t already have a pet and are thinking about getting one, there are some factors to consider.

“The general rules of pet adoption apply here regardless of age,” said Dr. James Randolph, a small-animal veterinarian and owner of Animal General Hospital in Long Beach. “Adopting a pet from a shelter is almost always a good idea. One need not be in a hurry. If you go to a shelter and don’t see the pet that strikes your fancy on Tuesday, go back on Friday.”

Shelters such as the Humane Society of South Mississippi have updated galleries of available pets on their websites. You might check them out first online and if you see some furry faces that are calling to you, visit them in person. There are also area rescue organizations that profile their available animals. Tired Dog Rescue is one of the organizations.

Senior concerns

Seniors have some concerns to keep in mind, depending on individual ability.

“For seniors who may have physical limitations, adopting a pet the right size is important,” Randolph said. “For example, a 6-pound Chihuahua can be carried by almost anyone, even while climbing stairs. Adopting an adult pet that is already house-trained can be a plus for the person who has limited mobility and cannot chase a puppy all around the house.

“Sleep is so important for people in our golden years, so not having to get up in the middle of the night to take a puppy out to the bathroom can be a plus.”

Puppies also can be, well, a little destructive, chewing on shoes, furniture and other things you might prefer they left alone.

“For the physically capable senior, loyal breeds such as the golden retriever and the German shepherd are good for anyone who prefers a larger-breed pet,” Randolph said. “If an older person prefers a smaller pet, but not as small as a pocket pet, any of the mixed breed dogs 10 to 15 pounds will fit their lifestyle well.

“If a purebred dog happens to be in a shelter, a Shih Tzu, poodle, Pekingese or other breeds in that size range will be loving, devoted pets.”

Adult cats

Cats — adults, not kittens — are another good pet for seniors to consider, especially those prone to being “lap cats.”

“Cats are typically lower maintenance pets compared to dogs,” Randolph said.

Indoor cats can use a litter box and don’t have to visit outside as dogs do.

Don’t limit your options to cats and dogs.

“Alternatives such as hamsters, gerbils, sugar gliders or even fish can provide the opportunity for a senior adult to nurture a living creature while still avoiding physical strain,” Randolph said.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1