As we age, a lot of different life transitions occur. These changes are not merely physical, but also social. The older you become, the more inevitable retirement becomes in turn. And this is a good thing! When you’re able to spend less time on work and more time on yourself, you should enjoy life more. However, it can be difficult to give up on the purpose that work gives, as well as the socialization it offers. For that matter, a lot of people find that it’s often difficult to stay close with friends as they get older. Of course, a part of senior citizens staying healthy is activity, as well as mental and social stimulation. But many senior citizens find themselves slipping into depression, as they are less able to do what they’re used to, and as their friends and loved ones grow sick and eventually die. While you might not be able to horse back riding (for more on that, goto West Wind Farms) anymore, your golden years shouldn’t be a dark time — but for many senior citizens, loneliness can make it so. Which is why they — and the loved ones who check up on them — often begin considering the pros and cons of dog ownership.
There are many pros and cons of dog ownership for senior citizens. Dogs are called man’s best friend for a reason; they’re the ultimate companions. With that being said, dogs are also a long-term commitment. Depending on the type of dog a senior citizen adopts and the age at which it is adopted, a dog could potentially be a commitment last fifteen years, or even more. This is why it’s important for the loved ones of senior citizens to be at least somewhat involved in this decision; if you’re your grandparent’s emergency contact, for example, you’re essentially their dog’s emergency contact too. If your loved one is unable to care for their pet in the future, it will up to you to decide what happens next. For many senior citizens, looking into the pros and cons of dog ownership is a bit overwhelming, leading them to rush into the decision — which is the last thing anyone should do when deciding whether or not to adopt a pet. Let’s break it down for you; that way, it will be easier for everyone involved to decide about the pros and cons of dog ownership.
Pro: The Companionship
When it comes to the pros and cons of dog ownership, one pro that everyone can agree on is the benefit of owning a dog as a companion. A dog is a wonderful friend to its owner, and there are plenty of medical studies that can back up that fact. Owning a pet has been known to help bring down people’s stress levels, and in turn level out their blood pressure. This finding has been true for dogs and cats, and even horse ownership. This is all incredibly important to senior citizens, who can struggle with depression and anxiety as they age. Owning a dog offers a remarkable distraction from the issues that come with aging and everyday life. For that matter, a dog prevents loneliness. If you’re dealing with the loss of a partner, or if you and your partner are simply struggling with empty nest syndrome, a dog is a never-wavering companion that is more than happy to stay by your side.
It may also be worth looking into getting a dog that can act officially as an emotional support animal. Much of the reason why pets can now be officially recognized as emotional support animals is that the designation makes it more convenient for pets to travel and stay with their owners who need them. For that matter, a lot of senior citizens who live in a senior living community may find it easier to keep their pets when they have emotional support animal certifications. While many communities have rules against dogs, a dog that has paperwork attesting to its emotional support animal status is much more difficult to deny. For most senior citizens, dogs are quite literally emotional support; why not make it official and have your dog recognized as such? There are so many benefits to having a dog recognized as an emotional support animal, and very few cons, as it were.
Con: Added Responsibility
There are many benefits to having the companionship of a dog. However, when listing the pros and cons of dog ownership, the commitment and responsibility required is one of the first cons you’ll likely encounter. As we discussed above, a dog is a lifetime commitment — though you may outlive, your dog will be dependent on you for its entire life. This doesn’t just entail the cute and fun aspects of having a dog, either. With a dog comes the necessity for dog training, as well as extras like dog playsets, and simply the daily ins and outs of owning a pet. Typically, a dog will need to go on a walk at least once per day. While this can turn into a pro very easily — as we’ll delve into — for some senior citizens, this level of responsibility is too much. There can be serious consequences if a senior does not properly train their dog or keep it in check. The last thing a senior citizen needs is to have to hire a dog bite lawyer when their dog acts up.
This is why it’s important for seniors to adopt dogs at the right stage of life, for themselves and the dog. When trying to get around some of the pros and cons of dog ownership, a senior citizen may want to consider adopting an adult rescue dog, which has already been at least partially trained, rather than a puppy. Not only will the dog age a bit more easily with its owner — but while all dogs require a lot of responsibility from their owners, puppies certainly involve a bit more effort at the start. It can be easier for a senior and an adult dog to adjust to each other. Many of the pros and cons of dog ownership are highly dependent on the specific type of dog, and the specific type of person. For some people, the added responsibility of having a dog is the perfect substitute for the loss of responsibility of a job or a child that has left the house.
Pro: Health Benefits
Obviously, the mental health benefits that come with owning a dog are among the positives on the pros and cons of dog ownership list. However, there are also physical health benefits that come with owning a dog. While a dog can’t necessarily turn back time and help a senior citizen recover from hearing loss or other ailments, they can help prevent seniors from living the kinds of sedentary lifestyles that present serious problems down the road. The walks that dogs require can help seniors get up and exercise. For that matter, it being able to throw a ball with a dog and play tug of war also presents an opportunity for light activity. This is perfect for a lot of senior citizens. The more active you are as you age — in a safe manner — the less likely you will be to have to deal with things like joint replacements and the typical wear and tear of growing older. Dogs can be seen as a form of physical therapy for senior citizens, alongside all of the emotional perks they come with.
Of course, it’s important for seniors to choose a dog breed with an energy and strength level that corresponds to the owner’s needs. This is why a lot of senior citizens get smaller dogs. Smaller dogs are less strong, and therefore easier to control than big dogs. The pros and cons of dog ownership for senior citizens can certainly shift depending on the type of dog they’re discussing adopting. A larger dog often requires more exercise, and certain large dog breeds exhibit naturally protective natures that might not make them ideal companions for seniors. Other aspects to consider are a dog’s coat — a dog that needs constant grooming may not be right for a senior — as well as its own health. Which is, of course, why we also suggest considering…
Many seniors live on a fairly fixed income as retirees. They don’t have the ability to make extra money anymore, at least not at the rate that they once did. This means that they need to be careful about living within their means. A dog essentially presents the issue of another mouth to feed. Not only will seniors need to pay for their dog’s food, but its toys, its required accessories, its vet bills — the latter of which can add up very quickly. If a senior ends up with a dog that has unforeseen health problems, the bills can run sky high. This means that ultimately a senior could end up not only having to care for an animal with health issues on a physical level — they’ll also have to pay for its medical treatment as well. One of the main pros and cons of dog ownership is that, as much as they can alleviate emotional stress for senior citizens, they can also add a lot of practical burdens if they aren’t chosen wisely.
With that being said, there are options available regarding vet bills. Many vets now take credit cards that are specifically designed to help people pay for their pets’ medical care. Furthermore, pet insurance has become more popular over the years. This makes it easier for senior citizens to pay for their pets’ healthcare. But this doesn’t do much to help with the other expenses that come with owning a dog. While the cost of ownership is much lower than owning a horse, before a senior citizen moves forward with their pet adoption, they should carefully budget their own expenses, and project how a dog will affect that budget. While there are many pros and cons of dog ownership, one cannot overlook these practical aspects.
While looking at hard numbers may be a great way to make someone second guess adopting a dog, we can’t forget that in a lot of ways, adopting a dog is an emotional decision. If you’re a senior citizen, you may be set on owning a dog; and if you find the dog that is the right fit for you, chances are that you’ll find a way to make it work. Furthermore, if you’re a loved one trying to give an opinion on whether or not your parent or grandparent should own a dog — remember that owning a dog often keys into feeling independent. Telling someone that they shouldn’t own a dog simply because they’re growing older is unfair; not everyone ages at the same rate and many senior citizens are perfectly capable of owning a dog. Age is not a reason to deny yourself a pet, especially when that pet could potentially enrich your life immeasurably.
Ultimately, the best way to decide whether or not a dog is a good decision is to simply meet some dogs. Try to look at several different types of dogs, and for that matter consider adopting from a rescue or shelter, rather than buying a puppy from a breeder. Walk the dog you’re thinking about adopting — play with it. You may want to adopt a dog that has already been fostered by someone who can recommend its suitability or seniors. A dog can be a best friend, a therapist, and even a workout buddy. The key is to find the right one!
AUTHOR: CAROLINE SIBLEY
Caroline is a freelance content creator and creative writer. VCUArts alum with a focus on the arts, travel, and culture.