How Old Is Too Old to Adopt a Pet?

Senior Woman and Cat

Q. How old do you think someone should be before they’re not allowed to adopt? My mom is 78 and active, but I do wonder if she is making a good decision taking in a new cat after hers died. I don’t want to be responsible for another pet if something happens to her.

A. The benefits of having animals in our lives are both scientifically proven and something we know in our hearts and souls. Animals are good for us, and that’s undeniable. I do recognize, however, that we are not always good for animals, which is why shelters and rescue groups try so hard to screen out adopters who are not well suited to having a pet and why they work to find the perfect pet matches for those who are.

I’ve written before about groups denying pet adoptions to families with children or not allowing small pets to be adopted to families with large ones, and in this case, my position is the same: I am not in favor of hard-and-fast rules when it comes to adoptions. I know that shelters and rescue groups have the very best of intentions in setting up their adoption policies, but I much prefer to see each pet and each potential adopter considered as an individual. I would rather see guidelines than rules, and that’s because in my more than 30 years of practicing veterinary medicine, I have seen so many people who cared so much for their pets that they’d do anything for them. I know that among those people were pet owners who would not have been seen as “ideal adopters” in many cases.

Plan for Your Pet's Future — No Matter What Your Age

You likely won’t be surprised to find out that I don’t think there’s a limit to how old a potential adopter should be. It depends not only on the animal (older pets are often perfect matches for older people) and on the person (how active is she, where does she live, is money a problem, etc.?) but also on what will happen to the animal if the person dies.

But here’s the thing: We all need to make such plans, no matter our age. You don’t have to do more than glance at the news to know that accidents, serious illnesses and other life-ending tragedies affect the young as well as the old. All pet lovers should plan for their animals in case something happens to them. Since you know you can’t take in your mother’s cat, now is the time to work with her on an alternative, such as lining up a friend who can take the pet if something happens, ideally along with enough money to care for the cat for the rest of his life.

By the way, this is no academic matter in our family: My mother, Virginia, adopted a small dog, Sugar Babe, a couple of years ago. As you might imagine, the mother of “ America’s Veterinarian” not only loves animals but also takes their care very seriously. Sugar Babe will not be without a home if she outlives my mother, but for now they are happy together.



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