For seniors, pets take the ‘lonely’ out of living alone

Sadly, loneliness and social isolation often mark the end of a lifetime of activity and engagement for many senior citizens.

While that long-awaited retirement may put an end to the daily grind, it also puts an end to daily interaction with coworkers in the workplace.

Over time, spouses or friends may pass from age-related health conditions. And opportunities for social contacts become fewer by the year.

In many ways, the golden years really aren’t so golden!

But there is an upside to this story and of course, it has to do with my favorite subject: pets!

Seniors who share their lives with pets experience a host of benefits that can make the next chapter of their lives full, rewarding — and anything but lonely!

First and foremost, with a dog or cat in their home, senior pet owners are no longer alone — they have their furry friend to keep them company all day, every day. And because lots of free time is one of the benefits of retirement, senior pet owners have schedules that are open and flexible, giving them more time to care for their pets.

Grooming can become a bonding experience for both pet and pet parent. Daily walks can be leisurely and unhurried, offering the opportunity to explore their neighborhood and get to know their neighbors. And enrolling in a training class can open up a world of new learning experience, possibly including becoming certified to visit other seniors who have no pets. Suddenly, the lonely aren’t so lonely anymore …

If you’re a senior, and think a new pet could be the cure for your social isolation and loneliness, here are some things to consider before adopting your new best friend:

The type of pet: Give some serious thought to your lifestyle and activity level. Dogs are ideal for active people, although they require more care and training. A cat may be a better option for someone more sedentary. But before making a decision, contact animal shelters in your area. Many offer “Seniors for Seniors” programs that pair senior pets with senior citizens. And don’t overlook the possibility of adopting a bird, or adding a fish tank.

Your future plans: It’s important to choose a pet that fits with your current living arrangement and what might lie ahead in the future. Is a possible transition to an assisted living facility in the cards? Although there may be restrictions, many facilities permit residents to bring their pet along.

The cost: There’s no denying that adding a pet to your household incurs some level of expense for food, veterinary care and more. And often for seniors living on a fixed income, this cost can become an unsustainable financial burden. So be sure to consider your budget before adding a new family member.

Contingency plans: What happens to your pets if something happens to you? It’s important to plan for the continued care of your pets in the event that you or your family are unable or unwilling to provide the care that they need. This is often the most difficult decision that a senior pet owner has to make, but by setting up a pet care trust or including provisions in your will, you can make sure that your beloved pets continue to receive the kind of care they deserve.

Every stage of life brings new milestones and new challenges. But being lonely and isolated doesn’t need to be part of your life story. With their loyalty and unwavering affection for their owners, pets have the ability to bring an unmatched sense of brightness and warmth to the golden years of life.

Sue Williams is a lifelong pet enthusiast. She has been actively involved in animal rescue, dog performance sports, responsible pet ownership and animal advocacy for more than 20 years. She can be contacted at altoonapets