January 7

Elderly Parents and Pets: Helpful or Dangerous?

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Your mom loves Sparky like a child, but you aren’t sure if it’s in her best interest to keep caring for him anymore. 

Sparky hasn’t been to the Veterinarian in years, and your mom often forgets to let him outside. It’s not uncommon for you to spot urine and feces on the floor when you come to visit. 

You know your mother would be upset if you even attempted a conversation about re-homing Sparky, but you think it might be for the best. How do you know when it’s time to consider adoption? What do you say when that time comes?

Explore the pros and cons of pet ownership for your aging parent and find out when it’s time to consider re-homing their pet.

Elderly Parents and Pets: Helpful or Dangerous?

Separating your parent from their pet is a decision that shouldn’t be made lightly. 

Depending on your unique situation, a pet can be the best thing for your aging parent. Pets provide several benefits that can improve their quality of life. 

The sudden loss of their furry friend can cause a decline in their mental and physical health. Weigh the pros against the cons carefully before you decide to start that conversation. Planning ahead will help your parent keep their furkid longer.

The Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors

Pet ownership is beneficial for all adults, but it’s especially beneficial for seniors. It improves their mental and physical health to have their furry companion around and increases their quality of life.

Mental Health Benefits

Companionship

Oftentimes, seniors are isolated and lonely. They do not have friends that come and visit, and they only leave home for grocery shopping or doctor visits. Instead of interacting with people regularly, they interact with their pets. 


They talk to them, pet them, and spoil them with toys and clothes. If you separate them from their pet, it’s not uncommon for them to become lonely and depressed.

Purpose 

When you are retired, and your kids are all grown, you are suddenly left without a purpose in life. You have no one to care for and no responsibilities to anyone but yourself. Suddenly, you find yourself lacking for things to occupy your time and provide mental stimulation. A pet can be great for this


It gives your mom or dad a living creature to care for that provides them with love and companionship back. Feeding and caring for Sparky might be the main reason your mom gets out of bed in the morning. Re-homing Sparky can leave her without a purpose again, which can cause her to become more depressed.

Provides Security

Criminals are less likely to break into a home that has a dog. This can provide your parent with security and a little peace of mind.

Increases Opportunities to Be Social

Taking their furry friend on trips to the pet store, groomers, dog park, or for a check-up gives your parent a reason to socialize and interact with other people. 

Physical Health Benefits

  • Exercise - If your aging parent is still able to get around, a dog could be the perfect motivator to get them up and moving. Taking Sparky for a walk is an excellent way for them to exercise. 
  • Decreased Blood Pressure
  • Decreased Cholesterol 
  • Decreased Triglyceride
  • Reduces the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
  • Reduces stress and anxiety.

Is It Time to Consider Re-homing?

The decision to re-home is tough. You should help your parent keep their pet for as long as possible, but at some point, that won’t be feasible anymore. How do you know when it’s time?

Signs You Need to Step In

  • The pet’s weight is fluctuating up or down. This could indicate that your parent forgets to feed them. They might be over-feeding to compensate or just not offering them food at all.
  • The water bowl tends to be empty or very dirty when you stop by for a visit.
  • Your parent’s home smells like urine or feces, or you see signs of it around the home.
  • Their pet’s fur is usually dirty and hasn’t been brushed.
  • They haven’t had a nail trim in a long time, and their nails are overgrown.
  • It’s been years since they have seen a veterinarian.
  • Your mom or dad has been to the ER for a fall caused by tripping over their pet or being accidentally knocked down. Over 86,000 people have to go to the emergency room for pet-related falls every year.
  • Your parent’s weight has been fluctuating. If finances are tight, they could be choosing to feed their pet and skipping meals for themselves.
  • Their pet is on medications, and your parent often forgets to give it to them.
Recommended Reading: Brain Health - What to Know About Pet Ownership and Dementia

How to Help Your Parent Keep Their Pet

Try out some of the following suggestions before you decide it’s time to re-home their pet.

Modify Their Home

Simple additions like fences or dog doors can help your parent keep their pet for longer. Try out these tips to help your mom or dad when they start struggling to care for their furry friends.


  • Move the food and water bowl up to a table to make it easier for your parent to reach. If they have a cat, move the litter box to a table too.
  • Purchase pet food bags or containers that are easy for them to open without assistance.
  • Install stairs or a ramp next to the bed to keep your parent from struggling to pick them up at night.
  • Build a fence and add a dog door if possible so their pet can go out to potty without assistance.
  • Purchase a self-scooping litter box so your mom or dad won’t have to struggle to dump heavy containers and scooping hard litter.
  • Get them a long-handled poop scoop so they don’t have to bend over to pick up poop on walks.
  • Consider purchasing automated feed and water systems to keep their pets fed.
  • Sign up for a pet food delivery service to ensure that they always have food on hand when needed.
Offer to Help

If you live close by and can help, bring your parent pet food, and help them care for their pets. Take them out for walks or let them out to potty, clean the litter boxes, fill their food and water bowls, and take them to the vet for a check-up and if they get sick.

Recruit or Hire Help

If you don’t have the time to help or don’t live close by, consider asking other family members, friends, or neighbors to step in. Not an option? Hire a pet sitter or utilize other local resources available to you. For example, many Professional Caregivers will assist with not only the pet’s needs, but also with your parent’s needs as well.

Consult a Veterinarian

Veterinarians are excellent sources of information for local services and resources to help your parent with their pets. Talk to your parent’s Veterinarian about the situation and ask for their advice. If your parent doesn’t have a Vet, schedule their pet for a check-up and talk to the Vet who sees them.

Consider a Pet-Friendly Senior Care Facility or Retirement Home

Certain retirement communities and assisted living facilities will allow your parent to have pets. This might be the perfect option for more reasons than just help with their furkids.

What to Do When It’s Time to Re-Home

In some cases, re-homing is the only choice you can make. Research all the options available to you before you throw an ad on Craigslist and give their furkid to the first person who will take them. 

Oftentimes, this will not end happily for the pet. They can be resold at flea markets, taken for bait dogs in dog fighting rings, or end up a lawn ornament in someone’s backyard. Don’t let this happen to your mom or dad’s beloved pet. 

Place the Pet with a Family Member or Friend

Ask other family members, friends, or neighbors if they can provide a new home for Sparky. Sometimes this can be the best place for them and could give your parent opportunities to visit with their pet from time to time.

Board the Pet at a Facility

Need to do something with your parent’s pet fast? Board them at a facility while you look for a new home. This will allow them to be adequately cared for while you search for the perfect home.

Get Assistance from a Reputable Animal Shelter

Contact your local shelters for assistance. They can inform you of any volunteer pet care services available to you and help you find a new home for the pet.

Ways to Help the Transition Go Smoothly

Planning ahead is crucial to making the transition go smoother. Giving up their pet is going to be tough on them emotionally no matter what you do, but planning ahead will give them a chance to mentally prepare for when that time comes. 

Talk to your mom or dad about their plans for their furkids in the event they can’t care for them anymore. Help them come up with a plan and put it in writing. They can specify who will care for the pet and leave funds behind for that care in a will with a trust.

Consult a Professional

Are you worried about bringing up this discussion with your parent? You know they love their pet, and they will be devastated to see them go, but you feel it’s for the best. How do you start that conversation? What should you do if they get upset or angry?

Request a consultation and let us help! Our Professional Care Providers will assess your unique situation and help you make tough decisions, just like this one.

Request a Consultation

Life over 50 is complicated. From illnesses to general aging-related difficulties, there's a lot to learn and a lot to cope with. We understand and we're here to help answer questions and provide guidance on your options.


About the author

Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

President & CEO, Aging Life Care™ Manager

“I am dedicated to working with older adults and their families to maintain dignity and enhance their quality of life.”

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