If you (or mum or dad) are senior pet parents, maybe you’ve begun to think about your/their pet’s future. Who will take care of the cat if you/they pass away? What about if you/they have to go into a nursing home or similar?
To a lesser extent – what will happen to pooch or puss when you/they feel too puffed to go out for a walk, play catch in the park or keep up with routine pet care? These conversations are emotional yet valuable to have sooner rather than later. Any resulting contingency plans will take preparation.
Animals live for many years. You never know what might happen in the meantime. Also, as we reach a ‘golden age’, having a good care plan for our pets can be a great comfort in allowing us to focus on what we love doing.
So, let’s look at some options.
Senior pet parents and community outreach
We spoke to Carolyn Press McKenzie, founder of no-kill shelter HUHA about options for senior pet parents. “Consider bringing someone else into the pet relationship. Engage people in your community. Friends, family, and neighbours may be able to be involved in spending time with your pet.”
“A teenager three houses down might wish to have a pet but doesn’t have the fulltime capacity to do so. He or she might be happy to take your dog [or cat] outside during the day or for walks to ensure they’re stimulated and exercised. This way you’re still able to enjoy the downtime with your pet, knowing they’ve also had the activity they need to be healthy and happy.”
Situations like these can have positive knock-on effects too. Using the teenager as an example, Carolyn explains further, “It could stop that teenager from buying a pet they don’t have the means to care for properly. It could educate them.
They learn what it takes to look after a pet. And one day they can turn out to be an amazing pet parent themselves.”
If you’re looking for a professional pet sitter, read more about how to find the right pet sitter.
Create your pet’s profile
As Carolyn says, “none of us knows what’s going to happen tomorrow.” Something she recommends all pet parents do – senior or not – is to write down who your pet is.
Whether you include this in your will or in a standalone document, it’s important to do so. Why? So someone else can pick up caring for them relatively easily. Whoever takes on responsibility for your animal has valuable insights.
Carolyn advises that you include the following in your pet’s profile:
- Your pet’s name, nickname, commands etc
- Description, breed etc
- Health records and vet details
- Who your cat/dog/bird/horse is in your words and from your perspective
- The types of activities they enjoy at home and when out
- What they’re good at, for example, they get on well with other pets/children etc…
- What they’re not so good at, for example, “my cat doesn’t like being around other cats/dogs”
- Include some photographs
- Include a note of who to contact in time of need – vet, boarding kennel, HUHA, or a friend, family member etc.
Carolyn explains, “it’s important to tell your version of who they are and what you’d want for them for if you’re ever not around. Having the information first-hand from the people who love them the most is golden. When HUHA has taken on pets in this situation we are able to not just pick up that animal, but also understand who they are right away.”
When it’s ok to surrender your pet
As heart breaking as it is, surrendering a pet can sometimes be the best solution. If it gives them the chance to find a safe and loving home that can give them much better quality of life, you’re doing right by them. And that’s the most important consideration.
If your ability for pet care is limited, it’s important that your fur baby doesn’t end up feeling neglected or lonely. Animals deserve the best in care, always. There can also be detrimental behavioural (and physical) effects.
For example, a pet whose owner doesn’t have the capacity to give complete care can end up experiencing pet separation anxiety. And without the correct exercise and feeding routine, pets face possible health problems like obesity, which can lead to diabetes in dogs and cats.
How to choose an animal shelter
If you’re choosing the animal shelter path to rehome a pet, choose one with a responsible rehoming process.
What does this mean? You should expect them to do a thorough family check of all potential adoption family members. They should also check the adopter’s home environment is suitable. For example, an outdoorsy cat might need trees and tall scratching posts while an indoorsy one might need a quiet, calm home.
A dog with lots of energy might need plenty of backyard space or at least an easily accessible dog park and an adopter who’s keen to head there often.
You can also expect a responsible animal shelter to assess the pet’s health, behaviour and provide flea, tick and deworming medication. Desexing and microchipping should also be included.
Pet friendly retirement villages in New Zealand
Moving to a retirement village also comes with different considerations when it comes to pet care. Many these days allow pets to come too.
Before signing a lease, find out the rules around pets. Sometimes bringing a pet is conditional on their size and behaviour. Some retirement homes allow pets but won’t let you replace them if they die. Choose what’s important to you and what you want for your pet when looking for a retirement home.
Your pet’s health and yours
Having a pet’s love is wonderful and it keeps us healthy too! Being a pet parent helps us stay active and can reduce blood pressure and stress. Give your pet the health insurance it deserves in return, with top-notch cat insurance or dog insurance.
Including pet insurance in your long-term plans for your pet is important. If you can afford to, consider how you can ensure your pet is insured even if you part ways. For example, should it be part of your will?
Senior pet parents – over to you
Vet visits, dog walks and cat play can be time consuming and (however lovely) exhausting as you age. If you’re planning to retire and looking for the best solution for your pet, perhaps you’ve gone through some of the steps we’ve outlined?
Share a thought or two on this experience in the comments below. We’d love to hear if this article was helpful and if you have any top tips to add for senior pet parents throughout NZ.