Guide to Supporting Elderly Owners in Keeping their Pets
Pets are often considered ‘part of the family’ – so much so that in the case of a survey of 2,000 pet owners conducted after the 2011 census, 11 percent said they had listed their dog as “their son” 1.
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A more quantitative statistic on the value of pets is recorded in a study by Professor Parminder Raina of 1,054 Canadian citizens aged over 65. Professor Raina demonstrated that pet owners were more able to maintain activities of daily living (ADL) over a one year period than those without pets2.
But what happens when you find it difficult to care for your pet or if you’re caring for someone who wants to keep their animal at home and is struggling to cope? In this guide we take a brief look at how to help elderly owners to keep their pets.
1. Think practical
What’s required in looking after the pet in question? If it’s a dog, how often does it need to be walked? If it’s a cat, does it have a litter tray that needs emptying? If they have smaller animals, are their cages easy to access and keep clean?
Consider how active the animal is in comparison to its owner and whether the placement of bowls, toys and trays present a trip hazard or if food and litter present a risk to health.
2. Be sensitive
If you discover that the animal’s needs aren’t being appropriately met, rather than highlighting the issues, ask the owner what help they would be willing to accept. Alternatively, you could ask them what they would like to be able to do for their pet if they were more active / mobile.
A small adjustment like switching out tins of food for easier-to-open pouches could reduce the risk of injury. Swapping wet food for dry could reduce the contamination of surfaces and/or smell. If the owner still wants to walk their dog but is struggling with mobility, could you or a neighbour accompany them?
Unemptied litter trays can become too heavy to lift and picking up dog waste can be difficult but what can be harder is asking for help with what seems like an unpleasant task. Don’t wait to be asked – consider whether you can enlist or offer help in these areas.
3. Be positive
Any conversation should be framed within the context of keeping the pet with its owner for as long as possible. In some circumstances, elderly people will delay operations or refuse to be admitted to hospital because they are worried about being separated from their pets. If you have an elderly relative in this position reassure them that their pet won’t be “taken away”. We recently discovered the Cinnamon Trust – a charity that’s dedicated to helping the elderly, and the terminally ill, stay with their pets via a UK-wide network of volunteers offering services ranging from dog walking to temporary fostering when an owner goes in to hospital. You can read more about their work here: The Cinnamon Trust
We hope these tips have been helpful. For more information relating to supporting elderly owners in keeping their pets, the following organisations have a range of support and resources available.
The Cinnamon Trust: A wealth of support and information