Owning a pet in retirement: benefits and considerations

At Scalesceugh Hall & Villas, we recognise the importance of pets to many of our current and future residents, which is why our development is pet friendly. Owning a pet in retirement can bring many benefits to our physical and mental health, however if you haven’t owned one before it can be daunting when trying to find a suitable pet for you and your lifestyle. We’ve put together some helpful tips and advice if you’re considering getting your own animal companion. There are so many more benefits to having a pet in retirement than simply enjoying their company. Getting a pet can help make your retirement years more fun, more comfortable, and happier, and can greatly enhance your physical and mental wellness. Benefits for your physical health Fresh air and exercise As a dog requires daily exercise, this encourages owners to get out and about. Not only does this have positive benefits for mobility and general health, but it also increases social interaction and decreases loneliness, which is often a greater health problem as we grow older. Therefore, what may seem like a small chat over the garden wall when searching for your cat or in the park when walking your dog, it can be incredibly significant for your mental and physical health. Studies regarding walking have found that retirees with dogs were much more likely to meet their recommended daily physical activity goals than others in their age group. We all know the power of exercise for maintaining or improving our overall health, but staying active has its own important advantages for older adults, including combating age-related disease like dementia and cancer. Owning a pet is also associated with reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure and healthier cholesterol levels. Pet owners have also been shown to recover from illness more quickly. With 3.5 acres alongside surrounding countryside and woodlands, Scalesceugh Hall & Villas provides residents and their pets ample opportunity to enjoy long scenic walks or leisurely meanders in the safety of our grounds. Improves cardiovascular health The American Heart Association undertook research looking at how owning pets affects your chance of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) – these are conditions that affect your heart and blood, such as stroke or coronary heart disease. Researchers found that having a pet – a dog, in particular – is thought to be associated with reducing your chances of developing CVD. Although a lot of research has focused on the impact owning a dog has on our health, it’s been found that cats can also help your heart health. In a follow up study by the American Heart Association, they found having a cat is associated with a reduced chance of dying from CVD, especially strokes. They highlighted it’s not just the exercise associated with having a pet that helps you – the stress relief and companionship also have very physical benefits. Benefits for your mental health First, caring for a pet can improve an owner’s sense of overall wellness and self-esteem. Many pet owners admit that the companionship provided by a pet can have a calming quality, and that’s because interactions with a pet can elevate an owner’s levels of serotonin and dopamine - nerve transmitters that have a pleasurable, soothing effect. Pets are constant companions and can bring welcome relief from the adverse effects of loneliness as we get older. Particularly during current times of the Covid-19 pandemic, as we spend more time at home with little or no regular social contact, having a furry friend to interact with can really brighten our day. For shy individuals or those who live with social anxiety, owning a pet can also improve their social health. Oftentimes, a pet can act as an icebreaker for conversation, with others unable to resist inquiring about or interacting with a cuddly animal. With regular socialisation being key to retirees’ emotional and cognitive health, increased opportunity for conversation and connection can only help an older pet owner. Pets can provide their owners with the motivation to rise in the morning, and also with the feeling of being needed. They can bring a sense of purpose and routine to the day, which might otherwise be empty after employment has finished, adding to feelings of mental wellness. Types of pets Dogs Many retirees like the idea of having a dog but many know they physically can't handle an active, large pet, especially as they get older. This is why small dogs are an ideal choice. The smaller breeds of dog generally fall into two types — terriers and companions. Although terriers are small dogs, they are usually high energy dogs that can become frustrated if they don’t get enough exercise. On the other hand, dogs that have been bred as companions tend to have reduced exercise requirements. These breeds include the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the Shih Tzu, the Pug or the Maltese. All of these breeds can do well in smaller homes and do not require big gardens to get ample amounts of exercise. They are also good sizes to be picked up and safely walked by most seniors. Cavaliers are quiet, gentle-natured, and do not require much in the way of grooming when compared to some other dog breeds. They are also a great size, typically weighing around 15 pounds full grown. Shih Tzu's are also lovable little dogs. They do require regular grooming but are an excellent size for seniors to safely handle and take walks with. Pugs have a sweet temperament and are very affectionate. They'll play with you as much as you want and then settle down to cuddle when you're tired. Pugs are generally well behaved, so you won't have to worry about coming home to a messy house. The Maltese is a breed that stays very small but is still resilient. They are usually content to sit around and keep you company when they can't be walked. They do not shed much (making them a great choice for anyone suffering from allergies) but they do like to bark. Cats Cats make wonderful companions for retirees who don't necessarily have the strength or energy to take a dog on a walk but still want a pet. Short-haired cats make great pet options for many seniors since they are typically very independent, clean themselves, and are quieter than a dog. Long-haired cats will require a bit more work since they may need to be brushed or groomed, but any cat is still a good option for a furry companion. Cats have unique personalities, make some noises for the person who doesn't want complete silence at home, and don't require a garden or a walk to use the bathroom. Guinea pigs and enclosed animals If you’re not a cat or dog person, then there are plenty of other furry friends to choose from, including guinea pigs. These are social creatures, so getting more than one to keep themselves entertained all day can help them live a happy life. Guinea pigs can be kept inside or outside, but will need a large enclosure if let out in the garden to protect them from other wildlife. If you’re planning to keep them inside, it is worth noting that they are ‘chatty’ creatures that are awake for up to 20 hours a day. Guinea pigs are fairly easy to look after and are ideal for older people who may have limited mobility and can’t take a pet out for long walks, but still want to carry out tasks each day to look after them. They also have a lot of personality and enjoy being held, with the only negative being their cage needing cleaned occasionally. Similarly, rabbits, gerbils and hamsters can all be great pets to have in retirement. Fish Often overlooked, and undervalued, fish can make delightful pets too. The average, bowl- or tank-housed fish never needs to be exercised and only requires feeding once a day (in most cases). They often come right up to the bowl or tank sides when an owner approaches and are less likely to argue or disobey their owners than may be the case with most furry companions. They’re also a very affordable option as they do not require a great deal to acquire or maintain, so you don’t need to worry about any surprising large vet bills. A small bowl or aquarium is easy for most people to manage. Betta fish are solitary, small space fish that are also very colourful and fun to look at it. These and other small freshwater fish can make good pet options for seniors, but the tank size should not exceed 10 gallons for ease of water changes and cleaning. Some special lighting, filters, and regular feeding will be required, but once everything is set up, the care of a fish is minimal, especially with the use of automated feeders. Consider getting an older pet Puppies, kittens and all young pets are going to need a lot of time and care, which for older people, can become quite demanding. If you’re thinking about getting a pet, why not consider adopting an older pet that doesn’t have a home? Not only will it mean the world to them to live out their last few years in the comfort of a home, but they will also be much easier to manage. Important things to consider when getting a pet Your affordability If you are considering getting a pet, and deciding upon which kind, you need to know your financial condition as owning a pet can cost a lot of money. Food, grooming, toys, veterinary care and treatment are the expenses you can’t avoid if you own a dog or cat. Owning a fish is less costly compared to other pets. Your lifestyle You need to make sure your pet can accommodate to your lifestyle. If you have a busy social life or travel a lot, you will need to think twice before you are getting a pet like a dog and a cat. These animals require a lot of attention, and loneliness can lead to serious behavioural problems. Also if you have limited mobility or are suffering from any health issues, you will need to consider how this will affect your ability to manage a pet. Do your research Grooming, nutrition tips and safety are things you need to know before you get a pet, which is why doing your research is important. A vast amount of information can be found online; however, you can also contact your local vet for some advice. Allergies Make sure you or your family don’t have allergies towards fur and animals. If you are not sure whether you are allergic to cats and dogs, you could spend time at your friend’s house (when Covid-19 restrictions allow) with a pet to find out. If you suspect you may already have a pet allergy, it is important to discuss this with your GP, especially if you have other allergic conditions such as asthma, rhinitis or eczema. Your GP may refer you for allergy testing to confirm or exclude a pet allergy. Insurance It doesn’t matter how old or young your beloved pet is – an accident or illness could happen at any time. That’s why it’s important to make sure you have pet insurance from the moment you take them home. Because if your pet suffers an injury or develops an illness before they’re insured, unfortunately that condition won’t be covered by most pet insurance policies. Access to a vet Ensuring you have access to local veterinary care services are very essential when getting a pet. A lack of correct care to your pet will pose a great danger to its health. As well as by able to easily access a vet in the case of an emergency, taking your pet to be checked regularly by a vet is important. Through check-ups, you can get advice on the right kind of food, vaccine, and medication to use which can be important in preventing your pet from getting any illnesses. At Scalesceugh Hall & Villas, we are fortunate enough to have a local vet located 1.5 miles down the road from our development, giving our pet-owning residents peace of mind knowing they have convenient access to veterinary services. Where to look? Your local rescue centre or pet adoption website is a great place to start when you are trying to find your perfect pet, giving you the opportunity to give an animal a much needed loving new home. As the largest animal welfare charity in the UK, the RSPCA take care of thousands of animals across the country who are in need of a home. You can visit their website and search for available animals in your local area. Their website also provides a wealth of information and advice about rehoming a pet. Other UK animal charities you can contact to rehome a pet are: Blue Cross Dog’s Trust Pet Adoption UK If you are local to Cumbria, our chosen charity partner for 2021, Oak Tree Animals’ Charity (OTAC), are a fantastic organisation who offer a safe haven for abandoned or relinquished dogs and cats who are awaiting new homes through their Adoption Programme. Located less than 5 miles from our development, the charity rehabilitates animals, whilst also helping prepare potential owners for life with a new companion; offering the help and support necessary for both animal and owner to live a long and happy life together. Borrowing a pet If you’re not quite ready to commit to the 24/7 responsibility of a pet, or if you want to gain some experience in looking after a pet before getting one of your own, you could always borrow one. If you have a nearby friend or family member with a dog, you could agree to take them out for walks once or twice a week. This could also be a way to find out if owning a dog is right for you. Alternatively, there are organisations which offer you the chance to care for other people’s pets for a period of time. BorrowMyDoggy is an organisation allowing dog owners and those without a pet to ‘match’ up and agree to share a canine friend as and when it suits both parties. They make it easy to arrange walks, playtime, overnight stays or holidays, with the aim of helping dog owners when they need it, give dogs more exercise and playtime, and to allow people without a dog to spend quality time with one. To summarise, getting a pet in retirement can definitely bring many social, physical and mental benefits; providing you with companionship and structure in your life. Although there are many things to take into consideration if you are thinking about getting a pet, there is a wealth of information and support out there - online and from various charities - to help you find a suitable pet that will fit your lifestyle. For further information about our pet policy at Scalesceugh Hall & Villas, call us on 07853 190765. Sources: Health: https://www.health.com/pets/dog-owners-walk-more-moderate-exercise American Heart Association: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/CIR.0b013e31829201e1 Nyla Bone: https://www.nylabone.com/dog101/10-best-dog-breeds-for-seniors Age UK Mobility https://www.ageukmobility.co.uk/mobility-news/article/best-pets-for-older-people

Owning a pet in retirement: benefits and considerations