Seniors and Pet Companionship
One common question we receive from families is whether a senior living community will allow their loved one to bring their pet. The answer is widely YES! Most senior living communities happily welcome certain pets as members of their community; however, most often resident pet owners are required to pay a pet fee upon move-in. Additionally, most assisted living communities will only permit cats and small dogs under a specific weight limit; and the residents are typically fully responsible for the care of their pets, although many communities help support the care of pets by offering some on-site pet care services or coordinating with off-site vendors that provide those services. As of 2021, there are over 475 pet-friendly assisted living communities in Virginia.
According to the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging, approximately 55% of seniors age 50 to 80 years old own a pet. Among that group, 68% own dogs, 48% own cats, and 16% own a fish, bird, hamster, or other small pets. The fact that so many older adults own pets is not surprising considering there is evidence that pets may help seniors contend with physical and mental health complications, according to a national poll. Poll respondents indicated that pet ownership affords them various benefits, to include:
- Offering greater life enjoyment.
- Providing a feeling of love and companionship.
- Reducing stress and anxiety.
- Creating a sense of purpose.
- Helping maintain physical activity.
- Establishing social connections with others.
- Supporting a daily routine.
- Easing the burden associated with physical and emotional issues, including keeping focus away from pain.
While it is widely shown that pets can enhance the emotional, social, and physical well-being of their owners, some pet owners also reported challenges, such as:
- Difficulty traveling or being away from home for an extended period.
- Higher financial burden associated with pet care.
- Pet’s health taking priority over owner’s health.
Senior Living Pet Considerations
In response to the expanding popularity of pet companionship and its benefits to the health and wellness of older adults, many senior living communities throughout Virginia have incorporated pet-friendly programs and policies to facilitate seniors and their pets. However, it is also common practice for these pet-friendly communities to include rules and guidelines that help maintain the health and safety of their residents, including:
- Limitations on the maximum weight of the pet, usually less than 20 pounds.
- Restrictions on particular dog breeds/types, such as Rottweilers and Pitbulls.
- Forbidding exotic or undomesticated animal species, such as certain reptiles, rodents, and birds.
- Official health documentation for the pet, including shot and vaccination records.
- Secondary pet owner designation in case the primary resident owner is temporarily or permanently unable to properly care for the pet.
Pet guidelines can vary significantly from one senior living community to the next, so, when researching or touring communities, it is important that you or your senior living expert asks the following questions to understand the pet policies of each community:
- How much is the pet fee? Is this a one-time or monthly fee?
- What type of animals are not permitted?
- Are there any pet size limitations or breed restrictions?
- Is the submission of pet vaccination records or other health information required?
- Can residents have more than one pet? What is the limit?
- How many pets reside in the community? What is the maximum pet capacity?
- What happens if a resident is no longer capable of caring for their pet?