What to Do When Older Adults Can No Longer Care for Pets
What happens when an aging parent or loved one can no longer provide their pet with the care they need? Let’s talk about how to assist them and when to make the hard decision to re-home a loved pet.
Pet ownership is a serious commitment, and we all want to spend forever with our animal best friends—but the tough reality is that sometimes we can’t care for our pets in the way they deserve. As people age, mobility issues and cognitive decline can make taking care of a pet increasingly difficult. It’s hard to clean a litter box or walk the dog around the block if people have difficulty walking themselves. If they start forgetting appointments, it’s easy to forget to feed their dog or cat.
It’s not fair to an animal to keep them in substandard conditions, so when you notice family members or friends struggling with their animals, reach out a helping hand. Sometimes all they need is a little assistance to keep their beloved pet by their side, and sometimes the more humane option is to find a new home for that pet that can meet their needs.
How to Help Seniors Keep Their Pets
There are undeniable mental health benefits to keeping older adults with their pets! Pets provide mental stimulation and their unconditional love nourishes the soul. Whether your loved one is moving into an assisted living facility or staying in their own home with family caregivers or professional long term care services, they have options that will help them keep their pets by their sides.
For seniors moving into an assisted living residence, look for a pet-friendly facility. There are nursing homes and assisted living communities across the map that welcome pets and even help with their care. Plus, there’s a good chance that the other nursing home residents who chose to live there will appreciate having another furry friend around!
If they’re staying in their own home, regular visits from paid pet carers or volunteering friends and family can keep an older adult’s pet and home in good shape. Having a support network to perform the tasks they can’t will help keep their pet in the home that they know with the human they love.
For more capable seniors, some simple accommodations can help them keep up care basics on their own. Consider adjustments like:
- Move the cat litter box to an elevated area like a table to prevent crouching down when cleaning
- Get a long handled doggy poop scooper so they don’t have to bend down to bag poop
- Install a doggy door for a fenced backyard so dogs can let themselves out when needed
- Get elevated food bowls or adding a chute for cat or dog kibble so they can feed their pets without stooping over
- Set recurring reminders on their phone or a smart home system to remind them of feeding times and other care tasks
When to Re-home an Aging Adult’s Pet
As much as you might want to keep your loved one together with their pet, there are simply some scenarios where it’s necessary to find a new home for their much-loved companion.
It’s time to consider rehoming a senior’s pet if:
- Their health issues have become severe enough that they can no longer care for them
- Their animal is consistently showing signs of poor care
- Their home is becoming unhealthy due to uncleaned urine or feces
- They don’t have a friend or family member who can step in to assist with care
- They can’t afford paid help for pet care
- They’re moving into a senior living facility that doesn’t allow animals
It can be hard to start a conversation about letting go of a beloved pet. Everyone wants to believe that they provide the best care for their pets, and people who are struggling with their own health issues might have difficulty accepting that they can’t do everything they used to do. Lead with empathy and make sure they know that this is a judgment-free conversation. You both want what’s best for their pet, after all.
In the best case scenario, you can help an aging loved one make care plans for their pet before they reach the point of no longer being able to care for them. That sense of preparation can make things feel easier when the time comes. Either way, talk with them about the options they have, whether their pet can stay with a trusted friend or family member or you can select an animal shelter together.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well. These topics can be difficult, particularly for adult children of elderly parents. Be kind to yourself and give yourself space to process your parent’s declining health with a therapist or trusted friend when you can.
We all want to do our best to help the aging adults we love have the best final years they can, and the same applies to their beloved pets. You’ll be there to give them the support they need, and we’ll be cheering you on every step of the way.