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When Aging Parents Can No Longer Care for Pets

9 minute readLast updated March 4, 2022
Written by Celia Searles
Reviewed by Vicki Demirozu, home care expertVicki Demirozu is a 30-year veteran in the home care industry and founder of Giving Care with Grace, an educational platform aimed at improving the client and caregiver experience.
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While pets provide companionship, love, and plenty of snuggles, they also require consistent attention and care. As our loved ones age and their mobility and memory decline, they may no longer be able to care for their pets. Families may then be faced with the difficult conversation about seeking different pet-care options.

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Talking to aging parents about pets

When starting the conversation about a change in pet care, remember to be patient, kind, and empathetic. Your parent may not be aware that they’re no longer able to provide the appropriate care for their furry friend. It’s important to communicate to your loved one that they’re in a judgement-free environment, and that you simply have their pet’s best interest at heart.

Also keep in mind that your parent may be struggling with the reality that they need help in several other areas of their life. Have extra compassion for them during this time — it’s hard enough that they have to lose their pet, let alone accept that they’re becoming less independent overall.

Signs it’s time for a senior to seek options for pet care

There can be many reasons your aging parent may no longer be able to care for their pet. The following is a list of signs your parent may need to seek options for pet care.

  • The parent is moving into senior living. Not all senior living communities are pet-friendly. If it’s important for your loved one to bring their furry friend to senior living, make sure you confirm the communities they’re interested in are pet-friendly.
  • The animal is losing weight. If the pet has lost a significant amount of weight in a short time, this may indicate that your parent is forgetting to feed them properly. It could also be an indicator of illness. Conversely, rapid weight gain could be a sign that your parent is feeding the pet too much. Be sure to check with a veterinarian in cases of serious concern.
  • The home smells like urine. If the space where the pet resides smells like urine, that’s probably a good indicator that your parent isn’t letting them out or cleaning their litter box often enough.
  • The animal is dirty. If the animal is consistently dirty without improvement, this could be a sign of unintentional neglect. Your parent may not mean to neglect their pet, but forgetfulness or mobility issues may prohibit them from bathing their pet when needed.
  • The parent is showing signs of forgetfulness. If your parent has become forgetful in taking care of themselves, it’s a good idea to look into whether the pet seems to be receiving sufficient care.
  • The parent is no longer sufficiently mobile. If your parent can’t move well — or at all — without assistance, they won’t be able to perform necessary tasks like walking the dog or changing the cat’s litter box.

Avoid crises by planning ahead

Westie Rescue of Missouri gets contacted “all the time” by children of aging parents unable to keep their pets, said Cheryl Sanford Aston, a volunteer and board member with the rescue group.

“Typically, the family or a friend will contact us,” said Sanford Aston. “A lot of times, it’s a crisis situation where they might say, ‘I have to get rid of the dog tomorrow.’”

When you’re estate planning, it’s a good idea to ask your parents to include a guardian for their pet or enough money to fund veterinary care, boarding, and expenses related to finding the animal a new home, Sanford Aston explained. That way, if your loved one’s care needs unexpectedly change, their pet will have the proper care in place.

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It’s important to plan for the future, even if your parent decides to keep their pet for now. Have an honest conversation with your loved one about the future and what they want to do with their pet when they’re no longer able to provide care. This way, the most ideal options can be determined in advance.

Common options for senior pet care

Facing the reality that a parent can’t take care of their dog or cat anymore is challenging, but there are several options for pet care assistance for senior citizens.

Once you and your family members have agreed to seek help for the furry friend, you have options. Some involve seeking extra help so your parent and their pet can stay together, and others involve rehoming the pet. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, as each pet and person has different needs.

Pet-care services

In some circumstances, seeking pet-care assistance may be a sufficient option, especially if your parent still has some independence and only needs help with certain tasks while aging at home. Many areas have community programs that offer pet care assistance for senior citizens, and some options even include veterinary help for seniors.

Here are some great examples of pet-care services that can help with boarding, walking, and playtime:

  • Wag! is an app that allows you to arrange walks, play time, and even boarding for your pet.
  • Rover enables seniors to hire someone for daily pet care and boarding.
  • TaskRabbit lets users find “taskers” to do home maintenance tasks, including dog walking or pet supply pickup.
  • Trusted Housesitters is a house- and pet-sitting company with verified and reviewed pet-sitters.
  • In-home care sometimes includes pet care as a service, through home care agencies for seniors. Make sure the agency you choose has this option.

For some, the strain of pet ownership is financial rather than physical. The Humane Society offersadvice for low-income seniors needing pet assistance.

Some areas even offer veterinary help for seniors on a fixed income. It’s a good idea to reach out to local veterinary clinics and ask about community resources that may be specific to your area. Animal shelters, local online pet groups, and close friends and family may also be able to lend area-specific advice.

Rehoming options

Sometimes a little extra assistance isn’t enough, and the only option is to rehome your loved one’s pet. Pet rehoming options could include the following:

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  1. Adopt the pet to a family member, friend, or neighbor. This way, the senior can remain in contact with the pet through visits and get updates on their well-being.
  2. Sign over the pet to a reputable rescue group. Make sure the organization is state-licensed and has standards in place for adopters. A good rescue will charge an adoption fee, have the adopter sign a contract promising to return the pet if they no longer want the animal, and will follow up at least once or twice on the adoption. You can search online to find local animal rescue groups.
  3. Temporarily board the pet while looking for an adopter. Be sure to tour the boarding facility and check out where the pet will be kept. Also, ask how much recreation or playtime the pet will receive.
  4. Surrender to an animal shelter. If you have no choice but to take the pet to an animal shelter, try to find a facility that’s looks clean, appears well-managed, and has an excellent reputation. Ask friends about shelters where they adopted their pets. At the shelter, ask about their euthanasia policy and procedure when a pet isn’t adopted within a certain time frame.

If you list the pet online to rehome, don’t advertise the pet as “free to a good home.” Unfortunately, people seeking free dogs sometimes have bad intentions, such as selling the pet to dog fighting rings or reselling the animal to the first buyer with no screening or follow-up. Look for local resources that can give advice on best practices for rehoming the pet in your area.

With so many programs for seniors with pets across the country, help is out there. Research your options fully before committing to one, and check in with your parent through each step of the process to ensure they feel supported during this transition. Regardless of which option is best for your parent, remember that any change to your parent and their pet’s routine may be stressful and can require extra patience.


Being Stray. (2009, May 27). Veterinary Assistance for Seniors with Pets

Cesarsway. (2015, June 18). 4 Signs A Senior Can No Longer Care For A Dog.

The Humane Society of The United StatesAre you having trouble affording your pet?

Westie Rescue of Missouri. Westierescueofmissouri.com


Meet the Author
Celia Searles

Edited by

Marlena Gates

Reviewed by

Vicki Demirozu, home care expert

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