Should Seniors Get a Puppy? (7 Benefits, Drawbacks, & Tips)
You live on your own, you no longer go to work, and you have time on your hand. As a senior citizen, will a puppy help or hinder your enjoyment of the third age?
Or perhaps you worry your elderly father is getting bored and depressed on his own. Is the gift of a puppy guaranteed to improve his life?
Benefits of Getting a Puppy for a Senior Citizen
A companion animal, like a puppy, offers plenty of physical and mental health benefits.
#1 Healthy Heart
Physical contact with puppy cuddles lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Any improvement in these two factors reduces your senior’s risk of heart disease.
#2 More Exercise
A puppy prompts your senior to get up and move – the puppy needs regular meals, bathroom breaks, and demands playtime.
Many senior citizens slip into the habit of sitting and watching the world go by; a sedentary lifestyle isn’t helpful for anyone.
#3 Better Routine
People are better at caring for others than themselves.
A senior on their own may skip breakfast, but a senior with a puppy will follow a routine that means that the puppy gets everything it needs throughout the day.
The routine for the puppy gives a better structure to the senior person’s life and a reason to get out of bed.
#4 Better Social Contact
People talk to someone out for a walk with a puppy.
Small children want to pet and cuddle the puppy, people on your regular walk get to know you, and other dog walkers are a friendly bunch of people.
A puppy is an excellent reason to get out and talk to other people.
#5 Touch Starvation
As you get older, your daily quota of affectionate touch decreases. There is no one to give you a daily hug or kiss on the cheek.
A puppy shows your senior relative affection and provides someone to talk to during the day.
Regular contact and being able to speak out loud reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
#6 Increase Happiness
When you stroke a puppy, you get a dose of feel-good hormones raising your mood and keeping you engaged with life.
A puppy is always present, which helps relieve anxiety and stress by flooding the body with serotonin.
Everyone needs to feel valued. It can be easy to think that no one needs you anymore as you age.
Caring for a tiny puppy promotes feelings of self-worth and restores your sense of being a responsible adult with a job to do.
Potential Downsides for a Senior
Regardless of the motivation, there may be situations where a puppy is not the best choice of a companion animal for a senior.
#1 Lack of Mobility
If you have difficulty moving or walking, a bouncy, energetic, and demanding puppy may represent a trip hazard and too much physical effort for your senior.
Realistically, if you are physically incapable of looking after a puppy, you and the puppy will be unhappy together.
#2 Lack of Experience
If you have never owned a companion animal, you may be disinclined to take on a new challenge.
Puppy behavior and training can be challenging for someone with plenty of experience with canines, but for a completely new experience in later life, a puppy may not be the best choice.
Owning a puppy is expensive and requires regular upkeep.
If you are on a small income, it may be financially challenging to take on the care and maintenance of a puppy.
You won’t reap the benefits of puppy ownership if these come with money worries.
Can You Be Too Old for a Puppy?
Your age of 60, 70, 80, or even 90 is not as important as your fitness level and the support available if needed.
An energetic 90-year-old in excellent physical health can enjoy the company of a puppy, but the potential risks in older years include:
Injury Through Accidents
Seniors are at high risk of injury through falls and slips. The statistics are terrifying, and 55% of falls happen in the home.
When you add a puppy to a home, you increase the risks of falls because the puppy is fast-moving and will distribute its toys in unlikely places.
Plus, you will need to go outside in all weather to walk the puppy unless someone else takes on the puppy walking duties.
In icy weather, a fragile senior may choose to stay inside, but this is impossible when you need to take the puppy outside.
Risk of Infection
Interacting with a puppy poses a potential infection risk – manageable with appropriate preventative medical care.
Aging weakens the immune system, and a 70-year-old finds it more difficult to recover from minor infections.
Fleas, ticks, and worms are irritating to all families but may pose an increased risk to someone with a compromised immune system.
Mismatch of Lifecycle
Depending on the breed, a puppy may live for 10-20 years.
You may cope well with a puppy at 60, but will you still be able to walk that adult dog a decade later when you are 70?
If you adopt a puppy at 70 or 80, there is every possibility that your puppy will live longer than you.
Planning for your puppy’s future care after you are gone can be stressful, are family members in a position to take over for you?
There are charities and insurance plans that promise a lifetime’s care for your pet, but the thought of not knowing what the future holds can be distressing.
Equally distressing is the death of a beloved pet when you are in your declining years.
Most seniors experience the gradual loss of friends and relatives but losing a pet that you expected to outlive you can give rise to extreme grief and sadness.
You may also need to move into residential care after 80, perhaps before. Most residential care settings do not allow for companion animals.
When you are least able to cope with your changing circumstances, you will need to consider the fate of your loyal companion.
To your dog, you going into care is the equivalent of dying.
No one will be able to explain where you are to your pet. Your puppy will feel sad and miss you.
Even if you choose a no-shedding breed, having a puppy will increase the amount of activity you need to keep your house clean.
On the one hand, this may be a positive benefit, keeping you moving and healthy, but you will bend and stretch more.
Your puppy will bring in dirt and mud when it goes outside. A young puppy may need house training, and there will be plenty of accidents to clean up.
Your puppy will get ill at some stage, resulting in more mess to clean up.
Mismatch of Physical Strength
A well-trained puppy will not pull on the leash and return when called.
However, getting your puppy to a well-behaved state may prove challenging when you have a powerful puppy and less strength in your arms.
Your puppy will grow in strength, and although you can, at 65, cope with a Labrador puppy, at 70, you may struggle to stop your adult Labrador from pulling you off your feet when it spots a squirrel in the park.
When considering a puppy for a senior, it is essential to consider physical condition now and in ten or twenty years.
What Breeds Are Good for Seniors?
In theory, any breed that matches a senior’s lifestyle and physical health is an excellent choice.
In choosing a puppy breed for a senior, the factors to consider are:
- Mobility – a tiny toy breed may be happy going for a ride in a mobility scooter to the park.
- Physical strength now and in ten years.
- Available help and support for puppy care – a senior living with a family can enjoy the puppy’s company without the stresses of looking after the puppy.
The top breeds for senior citizens include:
- Poodle – don’t shed hair, highly intelligent, an excellent companion, and available as small or larger dogs.
- Shih Tzu – low shedding, happy with a daily walk, and quiet in the house.
- Corgi – provided you can manage multiple daily walks.
- Chihuahua – a cute lap dog, but you want the puppy to come with training.
- Yorkshire Terrier – a firm favorite with senior citizens and a protective and loyal companion.
- Pug – very lovable and will follow you everywhere.
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel – calm and adaptable to a different routine. These puppies require plenty of brushing, which is a soothing activity for both owner and pup.
- French bulldog – benefits from constant companionship but likes plenty of walks.
- Bichon Frise – small and easy to handle, requires moderate exercise.
- Maltese Terrier – highly portable and affectionate. Ideal if you like to travel but not if you have boisterous grandchildren as this breed is fragile.
- Pomeranian – enjoys the comfort of a warm lap and time spent watching TV.
- Chinese Crested Dog – ideal for smaller apartments.
- West Highland Terriers – will walk for hours but are happy with as little as twenty minutes a day.
- Beagle – suitable for the more active senior and come in smaller sizes.
- Havanese – although they like walking, Havanese can get all the exercise they need indoors.
- Japanese Chin – minimum exercise requirement.
- Italian Greyhound – will stick like glue to your side and doesn’t require an excessive amount of walking.
- Pomchi – small and doesn’t need a lot of exercise, and is an ideal indoor puppy. Long-lived at around 18 years.
- Dameranian – ideal for a reasonably active senior.
- Shiranian – cute, small, and an ideal puppy for apartment living.
- Puggle – loyal but require regular outside walks.
- Cockapoo – low shedding and happy to snuggle.
- Cavachon – happy to adapt to a senior’s lifestyle.
If there is plenty of support for walking and caring for the puppy, more active puppies are potential companions for a senior in your household.
Puppies enjoying snuggling include Boxers, Affenpinschers, Icelandic Sheepdog, and the Boston Terrier.
The best choices for seniors over 70 years tend to include the smaller dogs that are easier to handle and happier with reduced activity levels.
Some, like the Havanese, can get the exercise they need from following you around your house.
An active senior under 65 may prefer a border collie puppy as these medium-sized puppies enjoy walking and ball games.
The collie will age alongside the senior as a ten-year-old collie equates in temperament and activity to a 70-year-old human.
What Breeds Are Best for Active Seniors?
An active senior who enjoys hiking and trail walking can comfortably manage one of the more active breeds and a larger puppy.
Some of the best breeds for the enthusiastic walker (as adults, these thrive with two or more hours per day) include:
- Border Collies – energetic and loyal, border collies love hill walking and gentle exercise with a ball in the garden when you both get older.
- Labradors – gentle mouths and the most popular breed for assistance dogs; a Labrador puppy is ideal companionship.
- Siberian Husky – good-natured and is an ideal breed if you like to run as well as walk.
- Golden Retriever – friendly, quiet, and excellent with grandchildren.
- Boxer – prefers a gentle walking pace and cuddles on the sofa or camp bed.
- Dalmatian – known for its ability to lap up the miles.
- German Shepherd – loyal, intelligent, and an excellent companion in wild country or the urban jungle.
- Weimaraner – ideal companion if you like to spend every day in the country.
- Australian Shepherd – medium-sized and thrive with constant companionship.
- Hungarian Vizsla – adaptable to various house styles and friendly.
- Springer Spaniel – highly intelligent, soft-mouthed, and loves to be out and about.
- Rottweiler – loyal and devoted, these breeds require minimal grooming.
These puppies rank amongst the most intelligent dog breeds and will benefit from training for obedience and fun tricks like bringing you the morning mail or rounding up the grandchildren.
Signing up for puppy socialization and obedience classes in your area will introduce you to plenty of other active walkers.
If you want a new hobby in retirement, these are the puppies that enjoy obedience and agility competitions.
These puppies have sharp brains, like to work, and are excellent for companionship.
What Age Puppy Is Best for Seniors?
The most appropriate puppy age depends on the senior’s ability to train and manage a puppy.
Ideally, a puppy that comes potty and leash trained cuts down on the work in settling the puppy and senior together.
In practice, puppy age will depend on how you source the puppy.
Most breeders will want to move their puppies between eight and twelve weeks.
A rescue shelter may have older puppies under two years, but these may have behavioral issues requiring support to help them settle into a home.
Can a Puppy Be a Service Dog?
A service dog has special training to perform various helpful tasks in helping you maintain your quality of life.
A hearing dog will alert the senior to callers by phone or in person. Others can help with mobility issues.
Suitable puppies can train to provide services to seniors, but typically you obtain a trained young dog for this function from a recognized organization like Canine Companions for Independence (link at the bottom of page).
Service dogs tend to be Labradors and similar-sized canines.
How Should the Puppy Be Taken Care Of?
The puppy’s needs are not different when a senior adopts the puppy.
The puppy needs time and space to grow and develop into a mature adult, and this includes:
- Space to sleep.
Before matching a senior to a puppy, it is essential to assess if there is the space and capacity to look after a puppy.
If the intention is that the puppy provides companionship, but other people care for the puppy, you need to work out how that works in practice.
It is never a good idea to spring a surprise puppy on anyone, senior citizen or young family because bringing a puppy into your home grows your family.
If you are buying a puppy for a senior, your senior needs to be an active participant in choosing a puppy for companionship.
How to Get a Puppy for a Senior?
Before contacting a breeder or a rescue center, consider your circumstances now and further down the road.
- How often do you want to go out for a walk during the day?
- Is it possible that you will be less able to walk in ten years?
- Can you cover the ongoing costs of owning a puppy?
- What size and temperament fit your lifestyle – a smaller dog for apartment living?
- Who will look after the puppy if you can’t?
- Do you need a puppy that doesn’t shed hair?
- Are you happy to groom a puppy every day?
Next, you need to decide if you want a specific breed with a pedigree or if you are happy with a mixed breed with characteristics of your preferred breed.
You can buy direct from a breeder, and you may be able to negotiate that the breeder keeps the puppy for longer and delivers an older trained puppy to your home.
Rescue shelters are another source for puppy adoption, and the staff will try to match an available puppy to your lifestyle with plenty of helpful advice.
Does It Have to Be a Puppy?
The advantages of a puppy are that it will adapt to you and your lifestyle because it doesn’t have any prior experience or bad habits.
However, the youthful energy of a young puppy may be exhausting, and you may prefer an older companion dog.
Retired greyhounds and more senior dogs of almost any breed are a known quantity and happy to move around at your pace.
Rescue shelters find it difficult to place older dogs with families, but you may find that a senior dog matches your lifestyle better than a young puppy.
If you have severe mobility issues or cannot easily leave your apartment, you may prefer a different companion animal to a dog.
Many animals and birds make easy companions with minimal care needs.
Most seniors who want a puppy in their lives will organize themselves to acquire a suitable dog.
If you think that a puppy may help an elderly friend or relative enjoy life more, you may be correct, but it is still a decision that you need to make with the individual concerned.
A puppy can give a senior a new lease on life, but it needs to be the senior’s choice.
That cute helpless puppy can grow up to be a demanding tyrant or a loving companion. A puppy is an excellent idea for some seniors but a terrible idea for others.