Cats can be an ideal companion for a senior loved one. They’re low maintenance and can be more docile than dogs or other pets, spending most of their time lounging around and awaiting cuddles without demanding too much.
Cats also provide endless comforts for senior loved ones in search of it, but deciding on which breed is best for you could be a challenge. Do they shed? What is their temperament like? How are they with others? These are all practical questions to be considered for seniors living in an Independent Living, Assisted Living or Memory Care community that welcomes pets.
According to Susan Kurowski, Executive Director of Pets for the Elderly Foundation, a public charity dedicated to providing companionship to seniors while also saving the lives of animals in shelters, isolation and loneliness have the greatest impact on the health of seniors. That’s where cats come into play. “Our number one priority is companionship and providing cuddly companions,” she said. “We want to help provide a routine for older adults.”
While taking care of animals can often require a lengthy to-do list, owning a cat can provide you with a four-legged friend while helping you maintain consistency and balance in your life. “I talk with my cats and interact with them, and in turn I am taking care of them by taking care of myself,” says Kurowski.
But it doesn’t end there. According to the charity organization American Humane, there are other fulfilling benefits that come with owning a cat. While the group dedicates its practices to promoting the safety of animals through the No Animals Were Harmed® program, it also places its efforts on strengthening the bond between animals and people. Mood improvement is at the forefront when discussing the mutual benefits of human and animal relationships. This comes from cats providing affection, company and endless entertainment. Cats help their senior owners combat loneliness and depression by giving the owners someone to talk with, smile at and interact with. Something as simple as just spending time cuddling with an animal can increase the hormone oxytocin, also known as the cuddle chemical. Playing with your cat can also increase dopamine and serotonin levels.
Cats also provide their owners with a sense of purpose that, coupled with a senior caring for a cat, has proven to improve physical health. While it may not take much to keep a cat active, simply tossing a toy in their direction gets a senior loved one’s muscles moving, and every little bit of exercise counts. “Seniors with arthritis or other physical limitations can easily care for cats,” Kurowski said.
Part of taking care of a cat means changing its litter box and feeding them. This action requires joint movement.
You will want to partner with a feline that meets your needs. According to Kurowski, it’s important to ask these questions first: Can you care for at cat and what activity level am I willing to exert? Once you agree a cat is for you or your senior loved one, consider temperament, hair type and age.
“We encourage that the cat be older, but it’s up to the individual,” says Kurowski. This is because cats tend to be more playful as kittens.
Here are some guidelines for finding a cat:
Remember that no matter what breed of cat you get, a routine is still necessary. Cleaning their teeth daily and trimming loose hairs is crucial in keeping your new pet happy and healthy.
While some Capital Senior Living communities welcome pets, policies may differ. However, seniors can still reap the benefits of companionship from pets.
Organizations such as Pet Partners, Therapet, Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati and Love on a Leash are nonprofit organizations that work to bring companion animals on visits to hospitals, Assisted Living communities and schools. While these organizations are limited to Texas, Ohio, Indiana and Washington, you can also contact someone at your local animal shelter or partner with your Activities Director or Executive Director to help bring therapy cats to you and your neighbors. Even though they may not live in your community, visiting with cats for a short period of time can offer stimulation and overall improved happiness.
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