Selecting a Companion Pet

Table of Contents:

  1. Types of Companion Animals
  2. Factors to Consider
  3. Alternatives

Retirement means countless opportunities to rest and relax, but all that alone time can begin to feel . . . well, lonely. That’s especially true for seniors who are bereaved or live far away from friends and family. Adopting a pet could be the perfect way for isolated seniors to meet someone new and brighten up their golden years. In addition to alleviating feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression, studies have tied companionship with an animal to reduced blood pressure and cholesterol. That’s not to mention the new opportunities to exercise and socialize offered by having a pet.

Types of Companion Animals

Dogs: We call them man’s best friend for a reason. Positive, energetic, and full of love, dogs are an understandably popular choice for a companion animal. In addition to joining you on the couch, they’ll keep you out and about with daily walks and fun activities. Less active seniors should beware, however, of puppies. They’ll melt your heart, but they may just as soon exhaust you with their limitless reserve of energy. For many seniors, an older dog with fewer needs and prior training might make the best match.

Cats: Cats sometimes get a bad rap, but the right feline can make for a great friend around the house. For one, they’re significantly more self-reliant than dogs. Other than a healthy diet, occasional play, and good dose of affection, most cats won’t ask for much. That being said, kittens aren’t so different from puppies. Seniors in search of a low-maintenance companion animal would do well to consider a senior cat.

Leo Cullum for The New Yorker
Leo Cullum for The New Yorker

Birds: Birds require even less hands-on effort than a well-behaved cat. Even cleaning up after a pet bird is relatively painless compared to sifting through a litter box or following a dog around with a plastic bag. Wherever they’re housed, birds will enliven the room with sound and make the house feel much fuller, but don’t forget to do your research. Otherwise, you might end up with more squawking than song.


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Fish: No, a fish can’t sleep in your bed or meet you at the door. What they can do is add a burst of light and color to your home. Studies show that idly gazing at a fish tank has many of the same health benefits as palling around with a more cuddly animal. An at-home aquarium could provide a simple, inexpensive respite from daily stress and anxiety.

Factors to Consider

  • Your Health: It’s important to honestly reflect on what you’re capable of. No one likes to admit that they’re not up to a challenge, but adopting a pet you can’t care for could prove detrimental for the both of you. Before selecting a companion, ensure that you’re up to the task of providing the financial and physical support an animal needs to thrive. Depending on the type of pet, this could include everything from cleaning and feeding to regular, fairly-vigorous exercise.
  • The Animal’s Health: On the other side of the spectrum, it’s important to obtain every possible detail about your new animal’s health. Medications, specialty treatments, and trips to the vet can add up fast. For seniors on a fixed outcome, pets with medical conditions could be a financial burden, and being unable to afford proper care could affect a pet’s quality of life.
  • The Future: If something were to happen to you, what would happen to your pet? It’s a question that’s both unfortunate and utterly necessary to consider. For example, what if an injury made it impossible for you to walk your dog regularly? It’s always best to have a plan for every possible contingency, guaranteeing that your pet is never without the care they need.


Pet ownership isn’t for everyone. Many seniors simply aren’t mobile enough to keep an animal happy and healthy. Some can’t afford to feed and otherwise care for a pet without the help of a steady income. Others are set in their ways and might struggle to welcome a pet into their homes and daily routines.

Does that sound like you, a friend, or a family member? Fret not, adopting or purchasing a pet is just one way to experience animal companionship. Rather than inviting a pet into your home, you might consider getting out of the house to volunteer with a local shelter. The employees will appreciate the helping hand, the animals will welcome the extra attention, and you’ll feel the mental and physical benefits of this quality time within minutes. Thanks to the rise of animal therapy programs, it’s even possible for animal companionship to become a regular part of any personal healthcare plan.

Minutes and hours with a therapy animal or days and weeks with a pet both promise to make the forthcoming years of your life healthier and happier. Start the search for your animal companion today.