Q: My recently widowed grandmother is interested in getting a pet to keep her company. What pet might be a good fit for a senior?
A: Numerous studies have shown that companion animals help seniors stay more healthy and active, so this is an idea worth exploring. The trick is making a good choice in harmony with your grandmother's health, activity level and home situation.
Both cats and dogs can be great companions. But unless your grandmother is up for an exhausting adventure for the first year or two, I'd suggest getting an adult rather than a puppy or kitten.
Older cats and dogs are more content to just hang out and be good company. If your grandmother lives in Howard County, you and she can check our two local shelters, Howard County Animal Control and Animal Advocates (both located on Davis Road in Columbia, off Route 108). Shelters have an overabundance of adult cats and dogs needing new homes, and adoption costs are relatively low. Some rescue groups and shelters allow for trial adoption periods to "test drive" and make sure a pet is the right choice.
Cats make wonderful and affectionate pets, and they're relatively easy to care for, especially for seniors who may have health issues that limit physical activity. For more active seniors, walking a dog is good exercise and a great reason to get outdoors and meet people. If she does decide to get a dog, make sure she chooses a right-sized pet that won't drag her down the street or be too big to carry, if necessary. And choose a breed or mix that matches her lifestyle in terms of the activity and exercise it needs to stay happy and healthy.
If she's interested in a particular breed, tell her most regional breed clubs have rescue groups that take in dogs whose owners can no longer keep them. Volunteers foster dogs until they find a suitable new owner.
You can find regional clubs by checking the American Kennel Club website (akc.org).
Before any decisions are made, please make sure your family is in the loop. If you already have a veterinarian for other family pets, you can ask about typical annual expenses for medical care. Since many seniors live on fixed incomes, it's important that pet care and feeding don't become a budget burden. And it will help give your grandmother peace of mind if she knows someone in the family will be able to take care of her pet if that need should arise.