Am I too old to get a Pet?

  • Pet ownership offers many physical and emotional benefits for seniors, although practical matters, such as health status, must be considered.
  • In a study of older adults, dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits, fewer limitations to daily living and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise, according to Dr. Karen Becker.
  • Caring for an aging animal can take an emotional toll; in one survey of pet owners, there was greater burden, stress, and symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as poorer quality of life, in owners of pets with chronic or terminal disease. It also gives a sense of purpose and routine to those who may feel a lack or purpose later in life after retirement and their kids have grown and moved on.

Baby Boomers represent 37% of all pet owners. Most of these folks are in their golden/senior years. Many have had dogs all or their lives and can’t imagine a life without a pet. I am one of them, although I am a border-line boomer. And I always picture myself as the crazy dog lady in the nursing home someday fighting over the service dog that visits my floor. Truly, though, I think I’ll cry because of being unable to possibly have one in that situation. And to be honest, many seniors put off moving into assisted care living because they don’t want to surrender their precious pet. I get a tear in my eye as I remember just this past Christmas when our church group went caroling at the local hospital and as we walked through the behavioral sciences unit a particular woman quickly approached us–bullseye on us since  I had my yellow lab, Amy along. I asked her, “Did you use to have a dog?” She replied as she gripped Amy in a bear hug, “This IS my dog!” I hated to leave the floor. She was so happy. And Amy obliged and leaned right in!

I sincerely hope they allow pets if I ever end up in assisted living. I honestly don’t think I could not have a pet. I guess I’ll have to settle for a goldfish if not. But let’s discuss some of the pros and cons of owning pets in your senior years and ideas of how to make it work without being a burden.

I have to admit, one mental image I love to recall, and that always melts my heart, is an older person walking SUPER slow down the street with a dog walking just as slow and halted. There’s a companionship there that cannot be put into words. A precious bond that no one can understand unless you’ve shared your life with pets.



Some of my favorite people in the entire world are Bud and Alice Roberts. They are retired and bring their EML “Abby” and “Hope” (who we call “Hopey”) all over the country as therapy dogs


Although they can be difficult to care for as you and THEY get older, it can still give you a sense a purpose, even in the offering of care to a senior dog. In fact, I actually recommend that seniors adopt senior rescue dogs. They can be much easier to care for and their lifespan may be short, ensuring you most likely will outlive them. And let’s face it, most of these aged pets end up euthanized because people don’t want to deal with an older dog and then have the possibility of them crossing the rainbow bridge possibly very soon after the adoption. It’s never easy. No matter how long you’ve spent with that pet. But consider this wonderful service you could provide to those sweet white faces with a little limp in their step. And if you are a senior with a good retirement income and lots of leisure time, you may be able to provide the proper care to actually improve the health of these aged, sometimes neglected rescue dogs.

One such program exists at Helping Paws Animal Shelter in Woodstock, Illinois, which states:

“Our Senior to Senior adoption program is all about senior citizens rediscovering the joys of having a cat or dog in their lives. The program helps place senior cats and dogs, who are 7 years of age and older, with senior citizens who are 65 years of age or older. The adoption fee is waived for any approved senior citizen adopting a senior pet.”8

Many adoption agencies offer senior dogs at discount prices like above. And even if pet ownership is not possible, consider volunteering at a shelter, fostering a pet, or taking a service dog to visit nursing homes and other places where therapy dogs are welcome. Offer to help at a boarding kennel or a breeding kennel—or be a dog sitter inside your home or in someone else’s while they are away. Offer to help train animals for a week or two at a time, or do in-home training at other people’s homes with their pets. The ideas are endless. Be sure to contact and visit your local AKC kennel club for more ideas and volunteer opportunities. Many need volunteers for clinics, AKC dog shows and other community activities.


Abby and Hopey, therapy dogs “in uniform”, belong to Bud and Alice Roberts


If you find a larger dog challenging to handle as you get older, consider a smaller breed. Talk to your Labrador breeder as they probably have good recommendations for you, especially if they show their dogs. I know for me, being involved in dog showing and knowing many types of breeds, I have smaller breeds I could recommend in this way that would fit people who like the Labrador temperament and personality.  Also, consider adopting a dog from your breeder who may be past their reproductive years and need a “furever” family. I can’t tell you how wonderful this experience has been for us. Our “retirees” now live with our friends and family and are spoiled rotten. We keep in close contact, sometimes weekly, with most of them. We love keeping them close to us physically and to our hearts. Hope (above) was just such a “retiree” from Endless MT. Labradors.

Gil Rodriguez, my chiropractor’s husband, with their boy “Stealer” –one of our retired stud dogs.

Nina Holmes Jackson with “Romeo.” (GCH ML Endless Mt. Romeo)

“Emmy” with her furever family–here, she’s shown with Kim O’Brien.

Consider, also, making well thought out care arrangements for your pet should you leave this earth before them. Discuss your wishes with your family as well so they can also be there to jump in to care for a pet should need be. This is a very responsible thing to do, but so many people don’t think about doing this, and God forbid your pet ends up in a shelter…so plan ahead for this…no matter what your age. We have this outlined in our will, too and added it when we were still in our 30’s. Even consider leaving enough money designated for the food and care for your pet (for about 5 years) in case the person who you name in your will as a guardian has a downturn in their finances and find themselves unable to shoulder the extra expense. Its never too early to think about these things.


Leave A Comment