May 23, 2015 — Americans are crazy about their pets. There were 164 million pets in the U.S. in 2012, according to the Humane Society of the U.S., with about 62% of households having a pet. Pet ownership for retirees, however, is a little different than it is for younger Americans. The Retirement section of the New York Times recently did a feature, “Pets of the Golden Years“, which profiled some of those differences. This article will highlight some of the issues that affect retirees and their pets (see end of article for our previous articles on this topic).
For starters, a smaller percentage of retirees own pets than younger people (41% of people 65 and over, 68% aged 45-54, and 76% aged 18-24 – Source: Mintel). Another difference is that people of retirement age are evenly split between cat and dogs, whereas younger folks tend to have dogs more than cats (about 60-40). We don’t have any hard data on the reasons for this difference, but it does seem intuitive that because cats tend to be less demanding than dogs, they are a better fit for retirees looking to simplify their lives in retirement.
Smaller dogs also tend to the preferred choice for retired people. Reasons for this include the ability to fly with a small dog in the main cabin of an airplane. They tend to be more welcome in active communities and apartment complexes, and less likely to knock over someone unsteady on their feet.
Owning a pet can offer many benefits for retirees. There is the companionship factor, an answer to the loneliness and isolation that many empty nesters and widows can experience. Pets can provide human companionship as well; spending time in dog parks, vet offices, or walking the dog around the block is a known way to make new human friends.
Owning a pet usually means its human owner gets more exercise and lower stress. Some studies suggest that pet ownership brings benefits like lower blood pressure and cholesterol. But competing studies point out that 85,000 people a year end up in the emergency department with broken bones caused by their pets – so not everything about owning a pet adds to your health.
Pets are not without their downsides, which are many. Some of those include:
– Travel. You can’t always take your pet with you. And that means finding a kennel or caretaker ($$$), or not going. Finding a hotel that will take you and your dog is getting easier, but cats are generally not wanted. The airlines permit a small number of pets (in carriers) in the main cabin, but you will pay for the privilege. If you want to take an extended trip or do a long volunteer stint far away, your pet is going to be a challenge for you.
– Active adult, retirement communities, and snowbirding. Tolerance of pets is increasing in communities, mainly because so many people have them, but there are still plenty of restrictions. Most snowbird rentals do not permit pets. Even if you own your own home in a community some breeds are prohibited, weight limits are often imposed, and the number of pets is restricted.
– Expense. Vet bills, shots, food, pet-sitters – our furry friends can be budget busters.
– Behavior issues. Most pets are well behaved. But if yours becomes a barker or a nipper it will cramp your style. Usually the pet is not the problem: it is the owner who doesn’t clean up after his pet or leaves it neglected for hours that causes issues.
– Once you are gone. You also have to think about what will happen to your pet if she outlives you.
For further reading:
Are Pets and Retirement a Good Mix
Pet Friendly Communities (many Comments)
Comments? We know you have a lot to say on this subject. Please share your experiences and thoughts about pet ownership in retirement in the Comments section below.