Pets in Assisted Living

What to do with Grandma’s cat?

May is National Pet Month and the benefits of owning a pet are well established. For seniors, pet ownerships provides comfort, an opportunity for social interaction and activity as well as reducing stress and lowering blood pressure. Pet owners have been shown to have a longer life and experience lower rates of heart disease.

We know our pets are good for us but what happens when we become elderly and are unable to fully care for our pet? More retirement communities are allowing residents to bring a small pet cat or dog with them into assisted living; provided they are well-socialized, obedient and calm. Many facilities offer pet visits from service dogs or pets being cared for by family. Often a single shared pet in an assisted living setting works best rather than many pets which may become territorial and cause problems.

Adjustments can be made to help seniors better look after their pets. Litter boxes or bird cages can be place at waist height to make cleaning easier and food can be transferred into smaller containers to avoid injury from lifting heavy bags. For dogs which pull, a halter-style leash may help make walks easier and safer for elderly pet owners.

Sometimes, due to failing health or facility restrictions, it is just not possible to bring a family pet into assisted care. Keeping the pet within the family will allow for regular visits and ensure the animal will be well cared-for. Take along pictures of the pet with the senior and encourage interaction with visiting animals or a facility pet. If there is no family members willing to take in a pet from an elderly owner, find a good shelter and provide the veterinarian with a complete health history if possible.

For seniors living independently, there are many programs aimed at helping elderly owners care for their pet and keep them out of shelters. The Humane Society of Canada has a Silver Paws program which provides help for senior pet owners with a free pet food bank, pet care, pet sitting and walking as well as landlord dispute resolution assistance. For more information about the program, visit or contact your local Humane Society.