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Think twice before adopting a pet

We love them dearly, but animals and humans don’t always mix. Here’s why getting a certain type of pet may not be a good idea.

  • Health
  • Read Time: 5 mins

Loneliness due to lack of companionship is a chronic condition often associated with ageing.  

It’s the reason many seniors adopt a pet, usually a dog or cat. 

The health and wellbeing benefits of having a pet are well established.  

Our furry friends are just that – friends who neither judge us nor go AWOL (usually). They deliver unrequited love at a time when many of us need it the most. 

They also provide incentive for keeping active in body and mind. Even if you don’t want to go “walkies”, those big doggie eyes will get you up from your lounge chair and out of the house.  

More aged care homes are now allowing pets, either for individuals or shared among all residents.  

Of course, there are barriers to owning a pet – a major one being the concern that no one will be there to care for the animal in the event of an emergency. 

Boarding kennels can be expensive, and many elderly pet owners would not want to leave their pet alone. 

An older person experiencing serious ill-health does not need the added stress of worrying about their pet. 

Knowing what you are getting into upfront and ensuring it fits your lifestyle is crucial. There are some great resources available to help you make your decision, such as Getting a Pet by Money Smart

Animals cause injuries

While most pets adore us and have our best interests at heart, they can also be a cause of accidents and injury. 

Did you know that cats and dogs are responsible for over half (53%) of all injury hospitalisations related to contact with animals? I know I’ve tripped over my cat and dog many times. 

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) found that hospitalised injuries due to contact with animals have increased in recent years, possibly due to more people owning pets during the pandemic.  

There were 23,380 hospitalisations due to contact with animals in 2021–22, with an increase of 2,230 (or 10%) hospitalisations from 2019–20 to 2020–21.  

Open wounds were the most common type of injury, accounting for 13,420 (57%) cases, followed by fractures (15%), toxic effects (10%), and superficial (5%) and soft tissue injury (4.5%). Upper limbs (46%) and head and neck (14%) were the body parts most likely to be injured.  

Some people have found they are allergic to their pets. Allergic reactions sent 1,180 people to hospital, with men being twice as likely as women to be hospitalised for this reason.  

Overall, however, two in three pet owners are female and women are 1.2 times as likely as males to be hospitalised due to a common pet-related injury. 

Despite the risks, the AIHW report appears to come down on the side of pet ownership. 

“Although owning a pet comes with a risk of injury, research has shown that interactions between humans and animals can provide benefits to our health and wellbeing,” said AIHW’s Dr Sarah Ahmed. 

How to choose the right pet

Before rushing to get a pet now, it’s advisable to think about issues that may arise later down the track.  

Perhaps an older and more mature pet would be of greater benefit than a kitten or puppy, as youngsters require intensive care during their first few months.  

But if the animal is already a senior itself, it may need expensive or time-consuming extra care.  

The cost of buying a pet, especially dogs, has escalated since the pandemic – and that’s just the start of it. You’ll have to budget for the cost of feeding and veterinary expenses. 

Try to make sure the pet you want is healthy. Some species are more liable to disease and injuries than others. 

The animal’s personality is important. Look for one that is relaxed and responds well to being handled.  

Ask the animal shelter or breeder about the animal’s temperament and personality. That way both you and the pet can choose their new best friend. 

Related reading: AIHW, Aging Care, RACQ 


John Austin

John Austin

Policy and Communications Officer, National Seniors Australia

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