The Best Pets for Older Adults in Senior Living Communities

There are dog people. And there are cat people. Whichever category you fall into, here are our recommendations for the best pets for seniors and the many ways bringing a pet into your life improves your well-being.

If you’ve ever cared for a cat or a dog, you know how rewarding pets can be. They bring joy to our lives, give us a sense of purpose, ward off loneliness, and reduce stress. Simply petting a dog or cat reduces your stress levels in minutes.

Dog owners, in particular, find themselves talking to neighbors they’ve never met before when taking their four-legged friend for a walk around the block. Plus, the exercise does both pet and human a world of good.

Then there are all the groomers, vets and pet store employees who love nothing more than to hear how Fido or Tabby is doing. It’s good to talk and connect with people about a subject that’s close to your heart.

Perhaps best of all is the contentment you feel when your canine or feline friend is resting comfortably in your lap. The cares of the day fall from your shoulders and, for a little while, all’s right with the world. So if that sounds like a good deal to you — and you’re prepared to give your pet the food, shelter, exercise, and occasional trips to the vet it requires — here are some recommendations for breeds that make wonderful pets for seniors.

Companion Pets for Seniors: 7 Best Dog Breeds

The best dog breeds for seniors have moderate energy levels, and most are smaller. The following breeds make great companions and adapt well to the lifestyles of their owners.

  1. French Bulldog — With a playful spirit, love of entertaining, and tendency to snort, this breed has earned the nickname “clown dog.” Their distinctive bat-like ears will make you smile, too. They’re people pleasers who’ll follow you from room to room and love being the center of attention. Frenchies have a good deal of energy but lack endurance, so they’re perfectly happy with short walks or playtime in the yard. Easy to groom, they’re quiet, amiable, and readily adapt to apartment life.
  2. Boston Terrier — This terrier variety is developed from the English Bulldog and the white English terrier. Their manageable size, friendliness and ease of grooming make them one of the best small dogs for seniors. Known for their boundless energy and fun-loving ways, they can provide endless entertainment with their silly antics. Apart from snoring, grunting and tooting, they’re quiet, and only bark when they’re riled or hear someone at the door. They’re well suited to apartment life.
  3. Cavalier King Charles Spaniel — Cavaliers are a smaller breed of spaniel, typically 12 to 18 pounds with a medium-length silky coat. Sweet, gentle and playful, they’re known as the “love sponge” of dogs, and like nothing better than snuggling up with their owners. Highly intelligent, they’re easy to train because they’re so eager to please. Overall, Cavaliers make great companion dogs well suited for apartment living.
  4. Pembroke Welsh Corgi — This breed’s origins can be traced back to Welsh King Hywel Dda in 920. These days, corgis are better known as Queen Elizabeth’s canine companions. (She’s owned over 30 of them.) A herding dog by nature, corgis need regular exercise, but daily walks and trips to the dog park should be enough. Corgis are smart, require little grooming, and like the occasional cuddle. Despite their small stature, they’re protective and make great guard dogs.
  5. Shih Tzu — Pronounced SHEED-zoo and interpreted as “little lion,” the Shih Tzu is bred from the stock of Tibetan Apsos and Chinese Pekingese. They’re famous for their flowing locks and will require regular grooming. One good walk per day, or even laps around your living room in a pinch, is all the exercise they need. Shih Tzus can be stubborn and prone to barking. But with the right training, they’ll be a friendly, playful companion. They make good lap dogs and live for cuddles and attention.
  6. Bichon Frise — This fluffy little bundle of joy makes an excellent companion. Bichons are easy to train but require frequent brushing and grooming. Many bichon owners take their dogs to a professional groomer every month or two. Styles vary from the fluffed out cotton-ball ’fro for show dogs to a simple close-cropped cut for dogs that just want to roll around and play fetch. Highly compatible with other household pets, this breed is affectionate and has a cheerful nature.
  7. Pomeranian — Poms are known for being smart, curious, energetic, feisty and bold. They have a foxlike face, pointy ears, and feathered tails that arch over their backs. Small enough to fit in a handbag, these fluffy little furballs are descended from larger Arctic breeds, such as the Malamute, Husky and Samoyed. Poms have a yappy bark and can be tough to train. But they’re very playful and love being the center of attention. (Fun fact: Isaac Newton, Michelangelo and Mozart all had Pomeranians.)

In addition to the breeds listed here, there are plenty of small dog breeds that make wonderful companions for residents of senior living communities. Here are some more top picks:

  • Maltese
  • Poodle
  • West Highland White Terrier
  • Pug
  • Miniature Schnauzer

Cats make good companions too.

If the prospect of taking a dog out for daily walks (and picking up after it) doesn’t thrill you, a house cat may be a better choice. In fact, the most popular pet in the country is the common house cat.

Domestic Shorthair cats are the most popular of house cats. It’s estimated there are over 80 million Domestic Shorthair cats in American homes. If you ask someone who owns one of these cats, they may say that they’re quiet and reserved, quirky and fun, strong and independent, sweet and clingy, daring and adventurous, sassy and clever, or a mixture of all of these depending on the mood you catch them in. They are generally healthy cats with relatively long life spans of 12 to 14 years or more.

If you’re looking for a purebred cat, breeds fall into one of the following three groupings based on physical characteristics:

  • The natural breeds — American and British shorthairs, Persians, and Maine coon cats were developed in cold climates. They have long, thick coats; heavy, square bodies; and are the most sedate group in terms of energy level.
  • The semiforeigns — Russian blues, Abyssinians, and ocicats are leaner and more muscular than the natural breeds. They have slightly oval eyes and their heads are moderately wedge-shaped. Their activity level is moderate with some high-energy exceptions like the Abyssinian.
  • The Orientals — Siamese, Burmese and Cornish Rexes originated in warmer climes; they carry little body fat and lighter coats. Almost everything about them is elongated — legs, tails, ears and bodies — to allow more surface area for efficient cooling. These cats are the most active and talkative.

A four-legged friend of yours is a friend of ours.

As a pet-friendly senior living community, we welcome cats and small dogs because we know how important pets are to the adults who care for them. In fact, we’ve even introduced PARO pet therapy in our memory care neighborhood to give residents the benefits of pet companionship — which makes them very happy.

To get to know us better (we promise not to bite), check out our Resources page for answers to frequently asked questions. Or contact us to learn more or schedule a visit.