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K-State veterinarian says selecting a companion pet for an elderly person requires careful thought


Studies have shown a pet can bring both emotional and health benefits to the elderly. But a Kansas State University veterinarian says getting a pet should not be an impulse decision and that several criteria should be considered before buying one.

Dr. Matt Riegel, an assistant professor of clinical sciences, said the criteria for choosing a pet, especially a dog, should include the pet's adult size, activity level, behavior, exercise requirements, routine grooming demands and interaction with children or health care givers.

Riegel said it is also important to compare the potential elderly owner's residence, health status and physical strength with the pet's physical traits, personality and routine care requirements.

"Unfortunately, what started out as a cute, cuddly puppy 'rescued' from euthanasia at the animal shelter could grow up to be a huge, ill-tempered beast that doesn't like children, requires a mandatory 30-minute daily walk and sheds large clumps of fur," Riegel said. "Now, that pet has become a burden and nuisance instead of the companion it was intended to be."

The size of a pet does matter, Riegel said. The larger the dog, the more it eats, excretes and needs to exercise. Large dogs can also intimidate strangers. Highly active dogs need time to exercise, otherwise unreleased energy could become inappropriate, self-destructive behavior.

The time needed to bathe and groom a pet also should be considered. Dogs such as collies, Yorkshire terriers and Pekingese require intense daily grooming, while dogs like golden retrievers, toy poodles and spaniels require a moderate amount of grooming, Riegel said.

Cats are a much lower maintenance pet compared to dogs, Riegel said. Cats don't need to go outside to relieve themselves, don't have exercise needs, can live in small places and are easy to litter box train. They are also usually much quieter pets than dogs.

"Dogs are creatures of habit and require scheduled daily activities," Riegel said. "Unless paper trained, dogs must go outside to eliminate three to four times daily, and many dogs require some daily exercise. Certain dogs can be very vocal, especially when strangers approach the residence, which can be advantageous as an alarm mechanism or just plain annoying."

The decision of selecting a young versus adult animal also is important for an elderly owner. A puppy or kitten requires time, energy and house training, while an adult pet is fully grown and is usually house trained and may be better behaved.

Riegel recommends getting more information from your doctor, veterinarian or a reference guide about owning a pet before bringing one home. Spending time researching a specific breed can help ensure you match your wants with what the dog or cat can offer and will help minimize a poor fit for both the owner and the pet, he said.


Fall/Winter 2006