by Ann Simkins
When you bring a cat or dog into your home, you bring lots of love into your life but you also take on a series of responsibilities. That’s why it’s a good idea to do some careful planning.
Choosing a pet when you’re over 55 may require an extra bit of thinking about the right fit for both you and the pet. Do not choose a pet just because it is cute or because you always wanted a specific breed for a sentimental reason. You are choosing a companion and the pet should reflect you and your lifestyle.
First, sit down and really think about the animal you want. Consider your time commitments, lifestyle and personality before making a choice.
Do you want a dog or a cat?
There are things to consider about a dog and a cat.
A dog is less independent than a cat. That means the dog needs to be walked at least three times a day and requires physical activity for the body and to maintain a healthy mental state. So you have to assess whether you have the time, energy and patience to walk a dog and play with it.
My company, Small World Pet Sitters, walks dogs for a few people who are retired and are physically active and a dog works for them.
Every breed has a different temperament and you should be sure to match the right dog to what you can handle. Cesar Milan has a great website where you can get a lot of information about choosing the right dog for you.
If you think a cat is a better bet for your lifestyle, there are things to consider.
A kitten is very cute but it also has lots of energy and can be a true handful. I know this from experience. Is it any surprise that older cats, say eight or ten years old, are more mellow and calm? Don’t count them out because they can live for another ten years. Their personalities have already developed and an older cat can make a wonderful companion. I know this too from experience.
How to find a dog or a cat.
There are so many animals stuck in shelters across the country and I really ask you to please consider adopting rather than buying from a pet store or breeder. That is a whole other topic for discussion.
I’m based in New York City and am familiar with Animal Care and Control of NYC. If you adopt from a shelter, you save a life. Sadly, animals that don’t get adopted or taken by a rescue group may be put to sleep.
The ASPCA is another organization that’s a good adoption source. They run a Meet Your Match program where dogs and cats are evaluated for behavior and an adoption counselor will work with you to find the right match.
Some organizations hold “Senior for Senior” adoption events where they work to match a senior cat with a senior human.
When you bring your pet home.
After you choose a pet, be sure to pet-proof your home before your animal arrives. Make sure windows have sturdy screens that will not come out. Your cat may want to say hello to a bird on the ledge or fire escape. The American Humane Organization has a thorough list of ways to keep your new companion safe in its new environment.
Be aware that many plants and flowers are toxic for cats and dogs. Begonias, lilies and gardenias are in this category. The ASPCA has a list of all toxic and non-toxic plants.
Feeding your pet.
There are many pet food options. Some include wholesome grain-free dry, wet and raw foods that give your pet a diet similar to what they might find in the wild. But if this is too much for you and you want to keep a lid on the budget, a variety of grocery store brand pet foods work just fine as long as the pet is in a loving and caring home.
Picky eaters need help.
If you choose an older pet, he or she may need a little special help with food.
For example, Bella, an older cat we adopted from a no-kill shelter had been in a cage for 6 months. She was fostered periodically to give her a break from the adoption center. But she had a rough time and looked unhappy. They fed her Fancy Feast, a prepared food that comes in a can, in the shelter, and she liked it.
We tried to change this many times, but she resisted any change and we decided to go with it. We just wanted her to eat and be content. We pick our battles.
Smelly cat boxes are not so smelly anymore.
Litter boxes and litter have come a long way. There are the usual rectangular shaped boxes in all sizes with or without a cover. There are also dome-shaped boxes with top access and self-cleaning mechanical boxes.
A Google search offers an abundance of choices. There is no need to suffer through the mess of clay litter, which produces dust when your cat uses the box, and when you clean it. There are litters made from pine, corn husks and wheat that are as tough or tougher on odor and better for the environment.
Every pet needs a vet.
If you don’t have a veterinarian ask for referrals from friends and neighbors or try your local neighborhood Yahoo groups. Check their reviews online, their Google business page or Yelp. Be sure the vet is people-friendly as well. You will be the spokesperson for your pet and having someone be kind to you is just as important.
What about when you travel?
Think about what you will do with your pet when you go away. If you have a dog, you can find pet-friendly hotels. There are also many wonderful pet care providers who will give care in their home, boarding facility or even stay in your home with your dog.
If you have a cat I would suggest hiring an insured and bonded pet sitter to take care of your pet at home while you are away. A cat does so much better when it stays in its own environment rather than in a boarding facility cage. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters is a website where you can put in your zip code and locate a pet care provider in your area.
Stay away from websites that try to match you up with someone. Look for professional referrals instead.
Your new furry companion is a member of your household now. In times of natural disasters having a pet emergency plan in place is a good thing. It is not something any of us want to think about but it is important to be prepared.
Pet Foster Care
If you’re on the fence and not ready to adopt, you could offer an animal a foster home. You can also foster with intent to adopt. It’s a great way to see if you and the pet are the right match. If it turns out you are not, the pet can go back to the no-kill shelter. We hope it will then find the right home.
You can also volunteer at an animal shelter or a center that works with animals so that you can get a feel for what might be right for you.
Tell us what you’re thinking. Comment here and I will also answer your questions.
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