Should we get Dad a pet?

15 answers | Last updated: Oct 23, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My dad is 80-years old and lives alone. Since mom passed away 2-years ago, dad's been lonely and doesn't spend time with anyone really. He's talked about having us get him a dog or cat for company. At his age, should we honor his request for a pet?

Expert Answers

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Loss of a spouse or significant other is a sad fact of life as we age. One of the ongoing challenges to the surviving spouse, your dad in this case, is to find ways to provide socialization, companionship, and emotional support for him. These are key elements to his quality of life and to maintaining a good attitude and outlook.

Assuming that your dad's health is good, and that he is capable of taking care of both himself and the added responsibilities of a dog or cat "“ remember, dogs need to go outside for walks and exercise, cats can be kept indoors full time "“ there are some excellent reasons to work with him to bring a wonderful 4-legged companion into his life.

The fact that your dad has begun verbalizing that he'd like to have a friend and companion in his home is a great indicator that he has emerged from the feelings of sorrow that surrounded him immediately after the loss your mother. You have an opportunity to build on those good emotions and solve at least two problems with the addition of a pet into your dad's home.

Pets are great companions. They're loyal, giving, fun, and capable of providing unconditional love. If you're dad can walk a dog, get one that's the right size and weight so he can easily control his new friend while on the leash. Both dad and dog will benefit immensely from getting out and doing exercise, even if it's just a 10-minute walk 2 or 3 times a day. A dog will give your dad purpose to his life and provide him with someone "“ pets become family members "“he can love and care for years.

If he can't consistently walk a dog, or meet some of the other demands that dogs may make, consider a cat "“ even if neither you nor he has ever had one. They make wonderful, cuddly pets. In either case, I suggest you talk with a local animal shelter and explain your situation and desires. This is a perfect opportunity for your dad to adopt and older dog or cat, one that fits his energies and abilities to care for without the challenges of training a puppy or kitten. The animal that he adopts will most likely have been rescued from a tragic fate if left in a shelter, and animals have a sense about having been rescued and adopted into a loving home and will pay back their new owners a hundredfold with love and devotion.

I think it's a great idea to consider, and can bring your dad a tremendous amount of joy as he and his new companion continue the aging process together. Be sure that you or your dad are willing to make the financial investment in the pet's health, as that is as important as keeping your dad healthy if this new relationship is to blossom.

Remember, having a pet is a major commitment, so be sure that your dad knows what his obligations and responsibilities to his new pet are and will be, because pets, like significant others often become a ""¦until death do us part"¦" commitment.

Community Answers

Lindasd answered...

My mom has Alzheimer's and I live with her and am primary caregiver. We have a cat and every day I am thankful for such a wonderful experience as an animal in the house and that it is a cat. When my dad was alive they had a dog. They would forget to take care of it so I ended up walking the dog before work, after work and before bed. Eventually when dad got really ill, I had to find another home for the dog. I had a cat and moved in with mom after dad died. The cat is so easy. No worries about walking. Consider not just your dad's current ability to take care of a dog or cat but what about later in his life? Will you be the one helping? If so, I recommend a cat over a dog. I know personally if it weren't for the cat to talk to during my caregiving days with my mom, I don't know what I would do. The cat gets my mom up and moving. She talks to Kitty all day and loves to pet her. Pets are wonderful!

Clc answered...

I'd recommend an older cat. I've volunteered at shelters, and it seems these poor critters are overlooked for younger cats or kittens. -With an older cat, it's less likely to interfere with walking because it doesn't tear thru the house as much during its crazies, but it may have to get used to walkers and canes. (Remember, some cats instinctively react to the snakelike shape of canes, or may have issues if they were hit - ask the shelter.)

-Cats can live to 12 and beyond, so try to find something appropriately aged. You will need to monitor things like sudden weight changes, condition, eating and litter habits (not a huge deal)but they can be indicators of illnesses like renal failure, liver disease and cancer. If your dad has any dementia, he will be useless relating symptoms. -And what I've come to learn with my dad who now lives with me and my cats is that they start to treat the cat like a human who has motive and intellect (like, they 'took' his glasses or know what he's saying). So separate fact from fiction when they relate something the cat did. -Finally, leave a 'big print' list of things not to feed the pet...some foods are poisonous even in small amounts. Human food is a no no, even if it seems the dog or cat 'wants' it.

Daisy3rc answered...

Yes, get the man a dog and I would recommend a small one. It can really enrich an older persons life and give them a reason to get up in the morning. Unconditional love an animal can give is pricelss. I speak from experience. Daisy

Summerrose answered...

I, also visit nursing homes a lot, animals are a delight to older people, a real comfort. It's a good idea from my exerience.

Faithful in ca answered...

I am in total agreement with Ron Kauffman's answer. My husband has Alzheimer's and is at home all day while I am at work. I recently started having in-home care 3-4 hours a day, but having had a small, "non-shedding" dog has been tremendous for both my husband and myself. Our little "Watson" provides company, a need for exercise and loads of entertainment and non-conditional love. Because he is small and doesn't shed, he is fairly easy to take care of and pick up after. Of course, there is the expense of grooming and annual shots, but all well worth it!

Siftnsand answered...

Yes, a pet is a good answer to the loneliness. It was for my Mother for sure. (CAT)
But as you say: ... a Dog: you have to be able take out twice a day .. have a dog license ... & hope it doesn't (bit) people .. Take it for walks, and be able to clean up after it when it does it's duty on peoples lawns.

A cat: you don't have to take for walks or get a license for it. It can be just a indoor Cat, but again one has to be able to feed it and clean out its litter box.

Mary Anne

Cryptoporus answered...

If you decide on a dog, be sure to get one that requires less care and is small. My Dad has a keeshound which requires much brushing, sheds all the time, and now that the dog is older requires my Mom and Dad (and sometimes me) to get him in the SUV to go the the vet, since he is too large to lift. My Father can't keep up with his care as regularly as he should and we can't always be there either. He can't walk the dog anymore since the dog being medium sized, pulls on him and he has almost fallen several times. I would recommend a short hair variety, smaller and a relatively calm dog (nothing that barks alot or is very hyper). A cat would be great too...!! I think it is particularly important for people to have the companionship of a dog or cat. It is better if the animal is not too old though because losing the animal is very hard on older folks when it has been their steadfast companion. You want the animal to be around for awhile and it is helpful to have discussions about care for the animal should the animal be the last to survive. this will give your father peace.

Gabrieldrm answered...

Get a pet, but test it first. If you adopt, ask about returns if the pet is not a fit. You may find out that your father has allergies, if nothing else.

Clc answered...

Another option to consider is fostering animals. You can rotate animals (cats are best, but small dogs are fine if you parent can walk okay). Upside is constant companionship and a safe place for the animal; downside (unless you find one you can't part with) is temporary nature. Some shelters will place with elderly who can demonstrate the ability to provide care and understand the expense of an animal as it gets older ($500-$2000 for many serious illnesses like renal failure, cancer etc). This is the reality check - don't just think you can take it back....worse yet, let it go.

Just remember as an early poster noted: a pet is a commitment. If there is the chance that you will find yourself overwhelmed caring for someone, that pet may be the added burden to put you over the edge. Don't make an innocent animal the victim of good intentions gone bad. You have no idea how many animals shelters have to deal with, including putting down, from families of elderly who don't want the cat/dog/bird that was the parent's companion. IF you can't or won't take the animal if your family member passes or goes to a facility that won't accept them, be a thoughtful adopter.

This all sounds sweet and is certainly beneficial. I've just seen other sides as a shelter person.

Laural answered...

After my grandfather died in November 2008, my uncle decided to give his mother, my grandmother, a Scotty dog. He and his wife had raised some, and Marshall came to live.

She adores him, he keeps her company, and gives her something to focus on. She really was of the age of 'taking care of the husband' and she did that till the day he died, and it left her feeling at loose ends. Marshall has been a literal lifesaver for her. :)

Eri80 answered...

I am 67 and i have a cat Sassy she helps with wellness and being alone. wish my Daughter would get me a Small dog for company. Handicap people need someone or pets to not feel so alone.

Lch answered...

A pet can be a wonderful companion and stimulas if the right match is made. Please consider the desire of the parent to have a pet, the ability to care for a pet's needs and the temperment match between human and pet to be the right match. My mother passed away only two months ago, my parents had to put their very special little poodle to sleep only several months before my Mom's passing. My Dad lite up when a little therapy poodle visited in hospice and he held it with such a longing look in his face, his need showing. My sister adopted a 7 month Yorkie-Poodle cross for him this past week, contacted the previous owner to learn about the dog, kept the puppy with her to see how she behaved etc. before making the dog available to our Dad. When he arrived to spend a week visiting the puppy and him were an immediate match which is ideal. He will be able to physically care for this puppy and it will be the companionship he needs at home. If anyone considers getting a pet for someone else please make sure you are also willing to make a committment to that pet for aide in care while the parent has the animal, also the willingness to take that pet into your home and care if needed in the future.

Abby h answered...

Ok - disclosure: I am a professional dog trainer. I teach a class on what to consider when choosing a dog. Comments on dogs, cats and not a good fit alternatives below.

I love the idea of a dog (or a cat). Where I see problems is when people get a puppy (very active, needs house training, chewing issues, grooming - translation $, time and exercise) or we've always had breed X (so kids think must be breed X).

Think older dog: House trained or much easier at this age. Exercise (needs less - mobility issues for elderly - could someone else - read family or paid person take care of this) Grooming - this can cost $ (is parent on fixed income?) Many more in need of home (not puppy cute) Think similar - Ok, perhaps they always had boxers. Boxers are high energy, need lots of exercise, body slams are favorite friendly greetings and short hair shedders. Elderly don't need body slammers. So, maybe a French Bulldog (punchy face, short hair shedder, similar temperament and much, much smaller) instead.

There are a lot of books out there to help figure out breeds (they talk about exercise needs of the dog, trainability, is this a high maint dog, does this breed need an experienced owner and what kinds of genetic diseases to ask a breeder about. The local breed rescue group (play around on the AKC website to find your local breed rescue)is more likely than a breeder to have an older dog (but not necessarily).

Seek help from a trainer. is an international group focused on offering positive training (positive is defined by the trainer so ask the trainer define what they mean by positive - hint: some describe themselves as positive but others disagree over tools and method). It also helps if you can sit in on a group class to see if you are comfortable with what they offer (hint: would you let them take your kid and do to your kid what they are doing?)

There are a lot of really great tools out there to help you like the Gentle Leader (it works like a horse's head halter) which means that the dog can't pull you like it can with a harness or collar. It is easier to fit traditionally than a Halti.

Avoid the zippy cord leashes. Sure they are good for 3 am potty runs but they are limited to only a hand grip (which isn't as strong in an older person - translation: if the dog yanks it out of the hand, the dog is loose and running away).

Think about jerry rigging a belt (lower onto the hip in place of the waist) to try to attach the leash because the center of gravity is more hip based so it is harder for the dog to yank the walker off balance. Now the hands are freer so you can do treat drops (keeps the dog closer to you and not pulling).

The crate is your friend. Ask the trainer for full details. Also place a towel under it (to protect the flooring from weight pressure, noise dampening, wetness accidents, etc.).

This can work with older people. Sometimes you just have to play around with how to solve newly created issues. You also may have to be willing to step in and offer things like more exercise than the parent is able. Giving a pet is more than a onetime expense.

Older is good. More than one can be good (ask if there are a pair who get along already (easier adjustment to new home). Some rescue groups offer specials if you adopt a pair.

Finally: As much as I love the idea of a home for a pet, not every one should have a pet. Sometimes the day to day care is more than someone can and should take on. For those people, may I suggest they think of offering their help at the local pet rescue group (elderly may need a weekly ride)? Here are pets in need of walking, loving touches but without the responsibilities of full ownership. Or, the group may love the idea of someone who can be there as a greeter (who directs visitors).

Lisbeth answered...

If your dad wants a dog, then he should have one. My mom liked animals, but was a neat freak and didn't want any mess in her house. Now, she's living with me, resigned to a messier household, and we got her a Teacup Yorkie/Chihuahua-type mix. When he was a puppy, she held him daily for hours and they built a real bond. His antics with our other pets make her literally laugh out loud every day. Every morning, I let him in her room and he greets her like only a puppy can, licking her anyplace he can reach and making her giggle like a little girl. He doesn't shed, and we have a good-sized yard that he uses a dog door to go outside in and run around when he needs to. I clipped him myself with my husband's beard trimmer, and saved that $40.

My husband was not crazy about the idea of another animal in the house, but now he says that getting my mom the puppy was the best thing we could have done for her. He is her constant companion. If you decide on a puppy, just be sure to invest in plenty of rawhide chews, and if your dad uses a hearing aid, he needs to be sure to put it in a case when he's not using it! :-)

Also, you might consider getting two puppies. If your dad has a yard, they will exercise each other and entertain your dad with their interactions. Eight months before we got this one for my mom, we got a full brother from an earlier litter, and there is never a dull moment, unless they're asleep in our laps.

ETA: A 'potty patch' in the house is a good idea. The pups would just rip up the paper pads, but the 'potty patch' is more like going outside, and has saved many a mess on the carpet. They don't like to use the dog door at night, or when it's raining. Just hose off the 'potty patch' outside every few days to keep it fresh.