There are a lot of benefits to owning a pet, especially for elderly people. They can keep you company when you are at home alone - stroking them has been shown to help people relax and lower their blood pressure, and looking after an animal helps keep the mind active. Of course, taking care of a pet is also a responsibility which depending on the kind of animal you choose, can be quite demanding.
If you are an elderly person considering buying a pet, or you are someone with an elderly relative who you think would like to keep one, here is some advice on different types of pet and how well they fit with different older people's lifestyles.
Dogs are the most demanding of the common types of pet, because they need a lot of exercise and also can't be left at home alone for too long. That being said, if you or the person you are thinking of getting a pet for is fairly active, having a dog can be a good way to ensure you get enough exercise. If you enjoy walking, a dog can be a great companion to take with you, and dogs have the added benefit of providing some protection for you at home.
If you are considering a dog, think carefully about the size and age of dog you can handle. Puppies require almost constant supervision and are full of energy, so if you don't think you can keep up, consider getting an older dog that has already been trained to some degree.
Older dogs tend to be harder to rehome than puppies too, so if you are thinking about a rescue dog, you will have a wider choice if you opt for an adult or even elderly dog. In general, the bigger the dog, the more exercise it needs, so if you can't be sure you can walk miles every day, a small dog is a better choice - they still need walks, but a little stroll to the shops or the park is generally enough for them.
Remember that dogs have quite a long life expectancy, so if you get a young dog, think about who will look after it and where it will live if you are no longer able to live at home or you pass away. These are obviously not nice things to think about, but if you are elderly you should consider that your dog may live for as long as 18 years, and will need care if you can no longer look after it.
Cats are, in general, a very good choice of pet for older people. They are much more independent than dogs and you don't have to exercise them, so they are suitable for less mobile owners, such as older people who rely on wheelchairs or stairlifts, but they still provide affection and company.
As with dogs, it is worth considering getting an adult cat rather than a kitten if you aren't up to looking after and house training a tiny kitten that is bursting with energy. Kittens can be a little destructive, too, whereas older cats are less likely to damage your things or need much clearing up after. Different breeds of cat have different traits, however unlike with dogs, the requirements for looking after a cat are essentially the same regardless of breed, so it is really just down to personal preference which type of cat is right for you.
Like dogs, cats have a long life expectancy (many cats live for over 20 years), so again, you need to consider the future for your cat before you get it.
Birds can be good pets for older people, particularly if they don't have room for a cat or dog or are allergic to furry animals. Birds that talk or sing can be a great source of company, and looking after a bird is relatively simple as you only really have to feed it and keep its cage clean.
There are all kinds of birds you can buy as pets, with parrots being popular for their colourful feathers and ability to mimic human speech (they are the only pets you really can talk to!), and other good choices including budgerigars, canaries, lovebirds and finches.
Dogs, cats and birds are the most commonly chosen pets when somebody is seeking company from their animals, however there are other pets that are a bit less interactive but also less difficult to look after, such as fish and small rodents like mice and hamsters. Rabbits can also be good pets, particularly if you have a garden you can keep their hutch in and exercise them in. Whatever you choose, make sure you match your pet to the level of care you can cope with.