Though interactions with animals, in general, can impact a senior, if choosing to keep one in the home or senior facility, Besser said seniors should consider what kind of animal would be best suited to their lifestyle.
“There are several factors to consider when deciding what type of pet or animal companion to choose for a senior. One should take into account a senior’s personality and physical ability,” she stated. “Cats are more independent and relaxed, while dogs are more social and can be physically demanding. It’s hard when you like and can handle both. So, it’s best to research what animal would best suit a senior’s needs, lifestyle and commitment level. The same would apply when choosing a family pet.”
But if a senior isn’t in a situation where they can keep a full-time pet, the professionals said they could always connect with therapy pet programs. Seniors can also get their pets certified as therapy animals, which can teach them skills to sense if something is wrong with their owner.
“Pet therapy is an opportunity for specially trained animals to become certified as therapy pets,” Lookabill noted. “They are used to being petted by a lot of people, getting their ears pulled and knowing what to do to help someone feel calm and comfortable.”
Besser said when trying to certify a family pet as a therapy animal, depending on the association, the pet will go through compatibility testing and training to be certified. Pets have to be at least a year old, and the process takes about six to 12 months to complete.
Lookabill added therapy pets can be a multitude of species, especially if they are in an established program.
“They can include pigs, horses, llamas and large birds,” she explained. “Communities have to be diligent in helping ensure that therapy pets are certified, up to dates with shots and insured.”