Moving to Senior Living with a Pet? Here Are the Top 8 Questions to Ask

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For older adults moving to a retirement community, choosing between one community or another can come down to which one offers pet-friendly senior living.

According to a national poll on healthy aging, more than half of adults ages 50 to 80 own a pet. The majority own dogs and cats, with the remainder owning other animals such as birds or fish. These pet owners felt their pets helped them feel loved and enjoy life more. They also cited other ways having a pet helped them, such getting them to be more active and adding more routine to their day.

Finding Pet-Friendly Senior Living

Retirement communities today recognize the importance of pets for their senior owners. Pet-friendly senior living is becoming the norm and not the exception, so there’s no need for a senior to leave their pet behind for lack of choice.

When searching for pet-friendly senior living, a good place to start is an online search since retirement communities will usually mention this on their website. Once you’ve identified a few communities that accept pets, the next step would be to contact the community to find out what policies and rules govern pet ownership on its property. If you’re moving from another state, it’s also wise to educate yourself about the animal laws where you intend to live.

Eight Questions to Ask

Here’s what to ask when researching pet-friendly senior living communities:

  1. What rules are there regarding types of pets?
    Communities often limit the number of pets a person can bring or adopt to one or two. They may only accept domesticated animals such as dogs and cats. Some exotic pets such as rabbits or hamsters may be acceptable, while others such as snakes or pot-bellied pigs may not be. Additionally, there may be rules about the size and breed of dog. Individual animals may also be evaluated for their temperament to ensure they’re not overly territorial and will allow staff to safely enter the resident’s home.
  2. What age of pet is allowed?
    Senior living communities may discourage you from bringing in young pets such as puppies or kittens as they’re considered harder to control and possibly more destructive. A community may also not accept long-lived pets such as a parrot or tortoise as they may outlive their owners. Dogs are often required to be at least one year of age and housebroken.
  3. Are service or therapy animals excluded from certain rules?
    If a resident needs a service or emotional support animal, the senior living community may have to bend certain rules. For example, the animal may need to accompany the resident to areas where animals aren’t usually allowed, such as the dining room or fitness center.
  4. Are there restrictions about dogs and cats going outside?
    Active dogs used to a large yard will need their exercise. Ask if the community has a designated area for dogs, such as a fenced run or dog park. Residents who have pet cats used to coming and going out of the house will need to find out whether this behavior is allowed by the community management.
  5. Is proof of the pet’s health required?
    Most communities have rules that require residents to show proof of veterinary vaccinations for their pets. This is to protect staff and residents as well as other pets. They may also require the pet be examined to make sure it’s in good health.
  6. Is a pet deposit required?
    Most communities will ask for an additional deposit from pet owners. Find out how much it is and whether the cost applies for one or multiple pets. Also ask if it’s refundable, and under what circumstances it would or wouldn’t be refunded.
  7. What happens if a resident can’t care for their pet?
    Seniors who move into assisted living may have health or mobility issues that make it harder to provide adequate care for a pet. Find out if the community is willing to provide help in these situations, or if they’ll allow a pet sitter or other service to help with feeding, grooming, walking and cleaning up. Some communities may require the resident to designate a person living nearby who can take care of the animal in case the resident becomes disabled or passes away.
  8. Does the community do anything special for pets and their owners?
    Dog treats at the reception desk, water bowls placed out for thirsty canines, outdoor exercise areas, and pet-themed parties, costume contests and holiday parades — these are some examples of how pets are celebrated in pet-friendly senior living. Look on the community’s website or Facebook page to see if there are any photos that show owners and their pets.

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To read more about finding a senior living community that suits your — and your furry friend’s — lifestyle, click here.