Holiday Toy Stories: Let Your Dog Know Toys Won’t Hurt Him

Balloons. Life-size talking robots. Remote-controlled drones and cars. When new toys join the household during the holidays and see action months later, they’re all fun and games for adults and children. For dogs, it’s another story. Here’s how to help them stay calm amid the buzzing sounds and flashing lights.

Action Figure Fright

While some dogs take the clatter of a skateboard careening down the sidewalk, the crash of a hydraulic mini-truck falling to the floor, or the skitter of an electronic pet dancing across the room all in stride, others may not feel as relaxed.

Fast-moving toys and robotics for children, as well as for some adults, won’t go away any time soon. Schools teach STEM activities (science, technology, engineering, and math skills), and kids want to engage with them at home.

For dogs who lack exposure to objects that light up, screech odd sounds, or make sudden movements, encountering such toys can be a nerve-racking and scary experience. It’s possible, though, to defuse your dog’s toy terror and keeping her from diving under a table, shaking with fear, barking uncontrollably, or aggressively grabbing at toys.

The following tips will ease the tension and help your dog feel safe when electronic, pop-up, and other toys come out for playtime.

From Fear To Relief

Depending on the level of your dog’s fear of noisy, moving toys, getting her to realize they won’t hurt her can take some time and patience. As much as you would like your dog to stop growling or shaking and to feel okay with the ruckus, you can’t rush her feelings. You may need to repeat the ways you calm your dog several times before her reaction changes.

Resist the urge to panic yourself, as this only intensifies your dog’s sense of worry. Dogs pick up cues from their owners about scary situations.

Instead, try to respond the way you normally interact with her. Comfort her and let her know she’s not in danger. If you normally use petting or massage to calm your dog and it works, try repeating these activities–but with caution. If the only time you tell your dog, “It’s okay,” and try to soothe her nerves is when in her mind it is not okay, your change in behavior might intensify her fear.

Avoid shoving toys at your dog or letting the kids prank her with toys popping up in front of her. These attempts will only frighten her more.

Low And Slow

Try asking children to keep their play action on the quieter side. While no one expects kids to interact with their toys without making any noise at all, it’s reasonable to request they don’t scream or yell at the same time, as these sounds rev up a dog’s sense of fear.

“When your dog reacts negatively to toys, avoid yelling, scolding, or punishing,” says Bonnie Beaver, DVM, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Beaver recommends using reward-based training and desensitization.

“Keep your reaction neutral and when no one is playing with the toys let your dog slowly explore them,” says Dr. Beaver. “Let her sniff, walk around them, and discover on her own what they’re all about.”

Teach your dog how to remain calm on cue. Use a calm tone and ask her to sit. This helps her to focus on you, rather than on the toys that trigger her fear reaction. Use this cue before the kids bring the toys out to play with them.

Once she sits, tell her a word or a short phrase such as “settle” or “okay,” and give her a small food treat. This gives her a way to relax when she hears this word or phrase and helps her associate receiving a positive response with the word or short phrase.

Remember to be consistent about using the same word or phrase and giving the reward. You’re giving her a treat for focusing on you rather than on the toys. Repeat this training often. The more practice sessions you put in, the better your dog’s chances of developing her own coping mechanism when she feels uneasy.

Buckle Up Pup: Trip Tips On Driving With Dogs

It’s the holiday season, and if your dog is lucky, he’s going to be doing some traveling with you. But before you load him into the car and head off down the road, it’s important to consider both safety and the law when it comes to driving with dogs.

At least seven states have laws on the books that require people to take certain precautions when driving with a dog. In Connecticut, drivers can be ticketed under a distracted-driving law if they operate a vehicle with a dog in their lap. In Rhode Island, dogs must either be belted in with a harness or secured in a crate while the car is in motion.

California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire all have laws requiring that dogs riding in the back of a pickup truck be secured so they can’t jump or fall out of the truck bed. A handful of other states have distracted-driving laws that can potentially make drivers liable for an unrestrained dog in their vehicle. To find out about laws in your state, see Orvis’ “Dogs and Distracted Driving” page.

Safe Rides

Whatever the laws in your state regarding dogs in the car, the safest approach is to restrain your dog when he’s riding in your vehicle. One way to do this is with a harness that attaches to a seat belt. According to the Center for Pet Safety, you have a choice between two types of harnesses: restraints that will contain your dog and keep him from distracting you while you’re driving, and harnesses that will protect your dog should you get into an accident. Harnesses that will keep your dog safe in an accident have been crash tested and should state so on packaging or in the product description.

Having your dog ride in a crate while you are driving is another way to prevent distracted driving, while also helping to keep your dog safe in the event of an accident.  The Center for Pet Safety recommends placing small carriers on the floor behind a front seat and securing larger carriers with tiedowns so they stay put during a crash.

Ready, Set, Go

Whether you are using a harness or a crate to restrain your dog, take time to acclimate him to this type of restraint before taking him on a long car ride. Have your dog wear his harness around the house for a few days first. Once you buckle him in, take him on a few short rides around the neighborhood. Use treats and plenty of praise to let him know being buckled in is a good thing.

If you plan to use a crate for travel, make sure your dog is crate-trained before you ask him to spend time inside it in the car. Crate training involves gradually getting your dog used to spending time inside the crate and helping him see the crate as his safe place.

One last note on riding in cars with dogs: You’ve no doubt seen plenty of cars whose drivers allow their dogs to hang their heads out the windows. While it may be tempting to let your dog stand on the seat with his face in the wind as you drive, this is a dangerous practice that can result in injury to your pet. Your dog can suffer eye damage from debris blowing in his face, and he can be seriously injured if you get into an accident. Even though dogs may enjoy riding with their ears blowing in the wind, as a pet parent, it’s your job to choose safety over fun. The good news is that your dog won’t pout—at least not for long.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Feline Physics: How The Righting Reflex Helps Cats Stick A Landing

Amazed by your cat’s acrobatic skills? Feline physics is the secret to dramatic leaps and landings.

Cats are equal parts mystery, myth, and masters of physics who have confounded scientists and owners for ages with seemingly impossible feats. A cat’s uncanny ability to land upright from a fall is a physics mystery that has perplexed researchers for centuries. This remarkable righting reflex is a natural gift custom-made for cats.

It’s So Easy, Kittens Do It

The innate righting reflex is an automatic response that corrects the body’s orientation when it isn’t in its normal, upright position, allowing cats to land on their feet when they fall or jump to the ground. Kittens begin to use the reflex at approximately 3 weeks of age and master it by the time they’re 7 weeks old.

The 30 exceptionally flexible vertebrae in the spine enable felines to stretch out, compress, arch the back, and rotate, bend, and twist the front half of the body independently from the back half. The small or sometimes nonexistent collarbone also contributes to back arching and helps the front legs absorb the shock of landing. These physical attributes get an assist from the vestibular apparatus, the fluid-filled cochlea in the inner ear, which provides a keen sense of balance. This apparatus is responsible for body orientation and equilibrium.

As a cat starts to fall and senses disorientation, the back bends, creating two separate axes of rotation. The head and front half of the body rotates first in one direction, and the front legs tuck in close to the face as the front part of the body twists toward the ground. Simultaneously, the back half separately rotates with the back legs outstretched, creating less rotation than the front half.

Then the switch-up occurs. With the front part of the body facing the ground, the front legs extend, reaching for the ground while the hind legs tuck in. The reverse actions slow rotation of the front half of the body and increases rotation of the back half. Just before landing the back legs reach out for the ground, which slows the rotation and allows the back part to catch up with the front half. The back arches to stabilize the body to prevent further rotation.


During the free fall, the cat’s body relaxes and spreads out, resembling a feline parachute. The tail doesn’t play a role in the actual righting reflex. The tail may aid stability on landing, but tailless cats breeze through the maneuver.

Stick The Landing

Cats need enough time and space to achieve this grace in motion. The righting reflex can take less than a second and a cat needs at least two and a half feet to stick the landing. That doesn’t mean every cat nails every landing every time. Cats do sustain injuries from falls; it happens so often the cluster of injuries has a name: “high-rise syndrome.” Researchers discovered that cats who fall from seven stories or higher more often land on their feet than from falls of shorter heights but experience more severe injuries. The most common injuries include chest trauma, broken bones, and facial and dental injuries. Cats can also die from high falls.

To help protect your cat from injuries, kitty-proof your home by securing unstable furniture such as book cases. Close open windows or cover them with sturdy screens; most screens are made to keep bugs out–not cats in. Add a screened enclosure to your balcony if your cat has access to it.

What perplexed researchers for so long about the righting reflex is that cats don’t push off from a surface but rather use torque from the body. It’s a physics conundrum that’s perfectly feline. While researchers continue seeking answers to feline mysteries, cats know Mother Nature designs elegant efficiency.

One last thing: As fascinating as it is to see cats perform this feat, please don’t intentionally drop your cat to see if he will land on his feet. There are plenty of videos, new and old, showing the righting reflex frame by frame on the Internet for your viewing entertainment.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Expansion Update

Welcome to the New Hartford Animal Hospital Expansion Update page. We will be posting photos periodically to share our progress. Take a look at the galleries below.

Early-February 2019

Mid-January 2019

Mid-December 2018

Early December 2018

Marie planning out the new conference room
The Cat Grooming Room in progress!
Taking apart the boarding runs.
Tearing down the boarding area for something SPECIAL!
Work in the new Specialty Care Boarding area.
New bathrooms in the works!

Even as Young Puppies, Dogs Look to People for Reassurance

“Social referencing” is a fancy term for a familiar phenomenon: when uncertain about a new situation, you check to see how everyone else is reacting. Are they scared, happy, calm, anxious? We look to others for clues in case they have previous experience that we don’t. Other social animals do this as well, and it’s especially important for the young, who haven’t yet learned as much about the world.

Dogs are particularly interesting because they not only do this with their own species, but also with humans. Researchers have shown this with experiments modeled on the ones they do with human infants. Show babies a new object, and they’ll look at the object and then at a caregiver. If they get a positive vibe from that person, they’re more likely to reach out for the object and interact with it than if the signals they get are negative.

How Dogs Respond

Dogs do the same: show them something unfamiliar and sort of scary and they’ll look back and forth between the object and a person and behave differently depending on how the person is reacting. They also respond differently to their owner. When they were shown a fan with ribbons tied to it, dogs approached it more quickly when their owner spoke to them in a happy voice than when a stranger did.

recent study in the journal Animal Behavior shows that even 8-week-old puppies look for and respond to human cues in this way. Using a similar slightly scary fan with ribbons, puppies were tested with a human who had interacted with them for a little while beforehand. (In this experiment, the person reacted either positively or neutrally, so as not to expose impressionable puppies to a negative experience.) When the person smiled and spoke happily, the puppies were more likely to approach the fan and did so more quickly.

The study also tested puppies with their mother and with another dog. Both dogs became accustomed to the scary thing beforehand, so they just sat there calmly. Likewise, the puppies would look back and forth between the fan and the other dog. Unsurprisingly, they trusted their mother more. They were less likely to approach the fan and did so more slowly when the other dog was a stranger but were still more likely to approach it than when they were alone.

Human Influence

This research shows that even before they’ve had much life experience with humans, dogs look to us for signals. With their long history of domestication and living alongside humans, this seems to be part of their nature.

We probably all know that our dogs look to us when they’re uncertain, and we instinctively encourage them when we can. Likewise, people with fearful or anxious dogs may notice that their dogs are likely to pick up on anxiety when owners are worried about how they’re going to react. This research shows that owner attitude really does make a difference. Many of us also believe that dogs can be helped by the presence of another confident, trusted dog, and this suggests that we might be right about that as well.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Five Cat Toys You Can Make In Less Than Five Minutes

Research tells us that play is a stress-buster in cats, because it enables them to express their natural hunting behaviors. More playtime has been found to correlate with fewer behavior problems, too.

We also know that cats are more likely to play with novel toys. That’s because play is pretend hunting, and once you’ve killed the same “prey” item every day for a month, it’s truly dead. That doesn’t mean you need to buy your cat a new toy every week. It does mean you should rotate the toys—every week or two, put away the ones she’s been playing with and take out a few that have been in a drawer for the past month. They’ll seem like they’re brand new.

You can quickly make toys that are exciting for your cat with just a few supplies, many of which you probably have around the house. You don’t need to be artistic, and you don’t need to know how to sew. These toys look basic, but your cat doesn’t care if her toys have cute mousey faces. She cares only that you’re making them move for her the way prey might move.

Sock Kick Toy

Take a small sock and pour in about a tablespoon of catnip. (Catnip, driedor fresh, should smell minty. If it doesn’t have any scent, it’s past its prime.) Then stuff in paper towels until the sock is filled out. Tie off the top with a knot. How easy was that?

Sock Knot

Take an old sock and cut off a strip about three inches wide. Cut it open so you have a flat strip rather than a circle of fabric. Tie a knot in the middle, then tie another knot over that, so there’s a nice big knot in the center for your cat to bite. Now it’s a cat toy!

Make the sock knot even more interesting by putting a little catnip in the center and folding it over before you tie the knots. You can make different toys with different herbs to stimulate your cat’s super sense of smell. Rosemary, valerian, honeysuckle, lavender, and thyme all tend to be popular—experiment to find out what your cat likes.




Pipe Cleaner Spiral

Start with the fat, fuzzy pipe cleaners (sometimes called chenille stems or craft pipe cleaners), because some cats can chew down the thin ones into easy-to-swallow balls. Make the toy even fatter and safer by taking three fuzzy pipe cleaners and twisting them into a braid. Now coil the braid around your finger. You have a twisty toy, great for batting under the sofa.


Shoelace Butterfly

Shoelaces make great cat toys because they’re thick and sturdy. The rule in my house is that when we throw out an old pair of shoes, we always save the laces. Take a piece of stiff fabric (denim or corduroy work well) and cut a strip about five inches long and three inches wide. Securely tie one end of the shoelace around the middle of the strip, and fan out the two sides so you have a butterfly. If you want a wand toy, tie the shoelace to a wooden spoon with a long handle. The flared part of the spoon will keep the lace from slipping off the end. (Remember to put away shoelace toys when you’re not playing with your cat, because some cats swallow string.)

Toilet Paper Teaser

A very long piece of unscented, undyed toilet paper makes a great cat toy. It crinkles like a mouse in the grass, flutters through the air, and dances along the floor. In the course of the game your cat will rip it to shreds, but so what? Tear off a new piece the next time you want to play.

Caution should be used with unsupervised toy use as some cats might chew or ingest parts of a toy, resulting in severe medical issues

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

How To Stave Off Canine Cabin Fever This Winter

If you have a puppy or adult dog with lots of energy, you know how much work it is to keep your pet entertained. And you’ve probably noticed how your dog’s stress level—and yours—goes up when he’s not getting enough exercise. High-energy dogs can develop behavior problems if they don’t get enough exercise and stimulation.

Bad winter weather can make it particularly hard to provide your dog with a way to burn off excess energy. Cold, snow, and ice can make it difficult for your dog to run and play outdoors.

Being stuck indoors doesn’t mean your dog can’t receive the exercise and attention he needs. Here are 10 ways to keep your dog’s mind and body occupied this winter and reduce his stress levels.

  1. Play dates. If your dog likes to play with other dogs, invite one or more of his friends over for some indoor fun. Just make sure all the dogs you invite know each other and have a proven record of getting along. Being indoors in close quarters means the dogs have to be good friends.
  2. Hidden treats. Gather a handful of treats and show them to your dog. Have someone hold him on a leash and let him watch you hide the treats in front of him (under a pillow, behind a door). Let him go, and encourage him to search. When he discovers a treat, praise him. After a few of these sessions, he will get the idea. You can then start hiding treats in other rooms, and he will stay busy hunting them down.
  3. Winter walks. Even the worst winters have an occasional day that’s not so bad. Be prepared to seize the moment if you get a break in the weather, and take your dog for a walk. Even a short one will do wonders to help his state of mind.
  4. Puzzle toys. Invest in a puzzle toy or two to keep your dog’s mind occupied. Puzzle toys work by challenging the dog’s problem-solving skills. The toy rewards the dog with a treat when he figures out the puzzle. Some good puzzle toys are the Hide-and-Slide Puzzle by Outward Hound and the Dog Activity Flip Board by Trixie Pet Products.
  5. Kong toy. One of the best inventions for bored dogs is the Kong toy. This tough rubber concoction can be filled with peanut butter, soft cheese or Kong Stuff’N, and keeps dogs busy as they work on removing the food with their tongue. Dogs can spend an hour working on a Kong as they try to capture every morsel of food.
  6. Tug and ball. Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you can’t play with your dog. If you have a long hallway or a staircase, throw a tennis ball to him and let him chase it. If he likes to tug, get him a new tug toy and pull with him until he gets tired.
  7. If you have money to spend and are serious about exercising your dog when the weather is bad, consider investing in a canine treadmill. With just a little bit of training, your dog can learn to walk and run on the treadmill, with your supervision. The Dog Pacer Treadmill by dogPACER is made especially for dogs.
  8. Trick training. Mental stimulation can be just as tiring to a dog as physical activity. Teach your dog some tricks this winter to help exercise his mind. You’ll both have fun at the same time. Some popular and easy-to-learn tricks are shake, roll over, play dead, and dance. A quick internet search provides the titles of books about trick training, and links to websites with advice on how to teach these tricks.
  9. Videos. If you have a dog who likes to watch TV, get him a DVD that suits his interests, such as DVD for Dogs: While You are Gone, available on Amazon. Or go to YouTube and stream a dog video on your computer screen. Try the Videos for Dogs Extravaganza (
  10. Natural remedies. If your cooped-up dog is going stir crazy, consider giving him a natural calming supplement to help him relax. Talk to your veterinarian about safe options for your dog.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Is It Crazy To Bring A Kitten Into Your Multi-Cat Household During the Holidays? Not If You Prepare

You’re contemplating adding a kitten to your multi-cat household, and the holidays are fast approaching. There’s plenty to think about with this scenario. How will your stable, tried-and-true household kitties adjust to the newcomer? Will the kitten get into trouble, especially with decorations, food, and unknown people thrown into the mix? Will you be able to handle all these variables and ensure a smooth transition for cats, kitten, and humans alike?

In my household, we are contemplating such a scenario. We may soon be adopting a tiny buff kitten. I have five loved housecats who all get along quite well. How can I best ensure that the introduction goes smoothly? What is the best way to do this with the least amount of stress involved for cats, kitten, and humans? If you’re facing the same questions, here are some tips to ensure security, not fear, for your new feline family member.

Kitten-Eye View

Preparing for a kitten is much like babyproofing a home. Take a close look at your surroundings. What could inadvertently fall on a kitten? Is the kitten too small to go up or down stairs without getting hurt? Could a nail sticking out of the wall cause an injury? Are there harmful products such as cleansers you’d not want your kitten to get into?

Look around your living space, and secure things that could fall. Reorganize if necessary. Think about places you want to keep the kitten out of, such as beneath a reclining chair.

Add in holiday factors. Are there decorations that might attract and be harmful to a kitten? Tinsel, ornaments, glittery plastic decorations, potpourri – all of these are potentially hazardous to a kitten’s health and safety. Plan to use baby gates or other barriers to prevent access.

Health Precautions

Are there medical reasons that your kitten may need to be isolated from the cats in your house? Are fleas or potential feline leukemia an issue? Check with your veterinarian before bringing a kitten home. You don’t want to put the health of your current cats or your kitten at risk. If a quarantine room isn’t possible during the holidays because of guests or parties, consider waiting to bring the kitten into the family.

Easy Does It

I’ve always gone slowly with cat introductions. I start with the new adoptee in a separate room free of hazards and let the newbie get used to me and the surroundings. The cats get to know each other by scent before a face-to-face meeting. This period can take only a few days or a week or more.

I use my observations, intuition, and knowledge of my cats to determine how quickly to proceed. Depending on how well the newbie is adjusting, and on the personalities of the resident cats, I begin slow, supervised introductions. I’ve experimented with using cat carriers for introductions – putting the newbie in a carrier and letting the original housecats check him out. Or I might let the newbie have free run of a room and put my other cats in carriers to observe.

Sometimes you get lucky and introductions go smoothly and quickly. That happened once when I introduced an adult black cat into my household of several other cats. My orange male slipped into the isolation room to check out the newcomer. They bonded at first sight and immediately began grooming and snuggling.

Hint: If you’re trying to keep certain cats isolated and you have a busy houseful of company, make sure everyone knows which cats need to be in which areas.

Best Laid Plans

Do you have to travel over the holidays? Do you have a trusted cat sitter who can manage introductions and interactions? Even if you do, it might be best if you can change your plans and stay at home for a more tranquil holiday. With a brand-new introduction, it may pay to wait until you’ve returned to bring the new kitten home.

Have Patience

Some introductions take more time than others. Some take a lot of time. With patience, planning, and luck, though, your kitten will integrate smoothly into your household, and your older cats will mentor her and teach the skills of growing into cat-hood. Treasure this time: your kitten will only be a kitten once. It might be the best holiday you ever have.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

New Hartford Animal Hospital Renovations Announced

We are pleased and proud to share the news that we will be renovating and updating our medical facility. Our project began this week! With this expansion, we will be able to offer:

  • A state-of-the-art veterinary medical facility second to none in our area
  • Several new exam rooms
  • A comfort care room
  • A critical care ward
  • A vastly expanded surgical and dental suites
  • A larger treatment room and communication center

Our facility will allow us to continue to provide the best medical care with the latest technology – in a setting that is more comfortable for you and your pet.

Pets and Assisted Living

Pet ownership can bring plenty of unexpected benefits for seniors. For starters, research shows that older adults who own a dog walk an average of 22 minutes a day more than seniors who don’t have a dog, and pets are even used in therapy techniques to help seniors with mental illness or dementia.

While the benefits to pet ownership for older adults are numerous, there are also unique challenges when bringing your pet to an assisted living community, including some communities’ lack of space and restrictive pet policies.

We’ve put together a guide that carefully examines the benefits and risks of owning a pet in assisted living, as well as what to consider before adopting a pet into an assisted living community. For pet owners who are planning on moving into an assisted living community in the future, this guide includes advice for choosing a pet-friendly assisted living community and a directory that allows you to research pet-friendly assisted living options in your area.

Benefits and Risks of Owning a Pet in an Assisted Living Facility

The benefits of owning a pet for older adults are undeniable. However, when bringing a pet into an assisted living facility, there are also some risks that should be carefully considered.


There are three main ways pets can have a positive impact on the lives of older adults.

First, owning a pet helps seniors be more active. A 2017 study concluded that older adults living in a community setting (such as assisted living) who own a dog walked an additional 22 minutes per day more than their counterparts.

Another positive impact is an increased sense of purpose. Seniors report that knowing their pets depend on them gives them a reason to get up in the morning.

Finally, pets provide companionship, which helps seniors feel less alone – especially those who’ve lost a spouse or other close friends or relatives.

Research shows that these factors can lead to positive, tangible benefits for seniors, including the following.

  • A Lower Risk of Heart Attacks: A 2017 Swedish study confirms prior studies which suggest that people with pets have a lower risk of heart attacks. Increased activity from owning pets is likely a large factor lowering the risk of heart disease.
  • More Social Interaction of Seniors with DementiaResearch has shown that pets and animal therapy can increase socialization capabilities. While owning a pet doesn’t slow the rate of cognitive decline, it can help manage symptoms.
  • Lower Depression, Anxiety and Loneliness: Animal companionship has been shown to have a positive impact on older adults who struggle with depression and anxiety. The companionship, sense of purpose and increased activity that pets provide or encourage are all influencing factors.
  • Calmness and Less Stress: Physically touching a pet (such as petting a dog or cat) often brings a sense of calm and may help to alleviate stress.


While there are many benefits to owning pets, bringing or adopting a pet into an assisted living community also presents some risks that should be considered.

  • Cost: Pets are expensive – especially as they get older. In addition to the ongoing cost of feeding and grooming the animal, the cost of veterinary care and any needed medications should be considered. Seniors who bring a pet into an assisted living facility can run the risk of having to eventually choose between the pet or other necessary expenses.
  • Inability to Provide Adequate Care: Seniors who move into an assisted living facility often do so because of declining health or mobility. There’s a substantial risk that a resident may not be able to adequately care for their pet as they continue to age. Feeding, grooming, walking and cleaning up after the animal may become increasingly difficult with age.
  • Liability: Dogs that are used to living in a single-family home may have unexpected reactions to being in such close proximity to other animals and people. Seniors face the risk of liability if their pet damages another person’s property, another animal or hurts another resident. While not all animals will react poorly, it is a risk that should be taken into account.
  • Conflict Between Residents: Not all seniors enjoy animals, and owning a pet could be a source of conflict in some situations, such as if the dog barks and annoys another resident and that resident complains to management.

Choosing a Pet-Friendly Assisted Living Community

When searching for an assisted living community, finding out about its pet policy can be an afterthought. However, many seniors may view getting rid of a pet as a deal breaker, and rightly so – pets not only offer companionship but can also become like family members. That’s why it’s critical for seniors who are attached to their animal companions to seek out assisted living communities that allow them to bring their pet(s).

Pet Policies and Common Restrictions

Not all assisted living communities allow residents to own pets, and those that do often have restrictions in place. The good news is that seniors who have one or two small dogs or cats can typically find an assisted living community that will allow them to enjoy the benefits provided by animal companionship.

Here are some of the common rules assisted living communities impose regarding pet ownership:

  • Extra Deposit: Seniors who bring pets may have to pay an additional, refundable deposit. Limited Number: Communities often limit the number of pets that residents may bring or adopt. A common limit is 1-2 pets.
  • Non-Exotic Pets: Exotic pets are typically considered animals that aren’t usually domesticated. An example would be a wolf or a python.
  • Breed & Temperament: Many communities disallow dog breeds such as pit bulls. This can take the form of specific prohibitions or more general guidelines such as “no ‘attack-type’ breeds.” An animal also needs to have a temperament that allows staff to enter the residence.
  • Age & Training Requirement: Dogs are often required to be at least one year of age and be housebroken.
  • Noise & Behavior Complaints: Many communities have rules regarding noise complaints or destructive behavior. If a certain number of complaints are received and the behavior doesn’t improve, the pet may have to leave.
  • Vaccinations: It’s often required for residents to provide proof of vaccinations before bringing a pet to live in the facility.
  • Designated Pet Caretaker: Some communities require residents to designate a person living in the area who is willing to take care of the animal in case a resident isn’t able to, such as if he or she is recovering from a surgery or experiences a sudden decline in health.

What to Consider Before Bringing Pets to Live at an Assisted Living Community

Seniors who currently own pets and are (or will be soon) making the transition to live in an assisted living facility should carefully consider the decision to bring their animal companions. While the very idea of giving up a beloved pet to another family may be heartbreaking, it’s important to realistically examine the senior’s capabilities, as well as the pet’s well-being.

Seniors who are considering bringing pets with them to an assisted living community should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Is the pet used to a large yard or freely moving around? Active dogs who are used to a large yard may not do well when moving to a small apartment in an assisted living community. Also, cats that are accustomed to coming and going out of the home whenever they wish may not be happy being confined to a small space.
  • How difficult will it be to find a community that allows your pet? If you have a larger dog or dog breed that’s viewed negatively by some (whether fairly or not), it may be very difficult to find an assisted living facility that will accept your pet, and you may have to make sacrifices in other areas, such as location, price and amenities.
  • Will you be able to adequately care for the pet? Seniors often move to assisted living communities because their health and mobility are declining to the point where they need help with everyday activities. Seniors should consider whether they will be able to adequately exercise and care for their pet, both now and in the near future.
  • Can you afford to continue to own a pet? Assisted living isn’t cheap, and the costs of pet ownership can add up – especially as the animal ages. Between vet bills and the simple cost of food, seniors on a fixed budget may not be able to afford a pet on top of the increased cost of living.

While there are important questions to consider when bringing a pet to an assisted living community, there are also many benefits of pet ownership for seniors, which will be explored in more depth below.

Pet-Related Services Offered by Assisted Living Communities

In addition to allowing pets, some assisted living communities go the extra mile to provide extra services and benefits for pet owners, or provide pet therapy for residents who don’t have pets. Keep in mind that these communities may be more expensive, or there may be an additional fee to access the services of a pet coordinator.

Pet coordinators ensure pets’ day-to-day well being.

Many seniors view their pets as part of their family, and there are some assisted living communities that share the same perspective. As such, these communities ensure that both the owner and the pet receive the care that they need.

A pet coordinator can help to exercise pets, clean up after them, keep them up-to-date with vaccinations, facilitate veterinary appointments and help with administering any medicine that may be needed. Pet coordinators take care of all the details so that seniors who wouldn’t normally be able to care for a pet can enjoy the benefits of pet companionship.

Pet therapy programs provide access to animal companionship without the responsibilities.

Many assisted living communities are coming to better understand the value and benefit that pets can provide to seniors. A pet therapy program or “a community pet” is a way for seniors to access animal companionship, without having to worry about the expense and effort of feeding, exercising and grooming. This service ranges from providing dogs that are trained to provide therapy to simply having a community pet that residents can spend time with at their convenience.

What to Consider Before Adopting a Pet into an Assisted Living Community

If you currently live in an assisted living community and you’re considering the idea of owning a pet, there are a number of questions to consider before you make this important decision. Keep in mind that some facilities may not allow you to adopt a pet at all after you move in, while others have specific restrictions in place, such as requiring the animal to be potty trained and more than a year old.

Can you afford to adopt a pet?

One of the primary concerns when considering adopting a pet is the potential cost. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that the annual cost of owning a small dog is $512, or $737 with health insurance. Those who don’t opt for health insurance for their pet risk the chance of large, unexpected vet bills. Cats tend to be more expensive than small dogs with a yearly expense of $634 without health insurance and $809 with health insurance.

On top of the normal annual expense of owning a dog, the first year of owning an animal comes with increased costs. For a small dog, the initial extra cost averages about $470 and $365 for a cat. This means that the total first-year cost for a small dog can be $1,207 (not including the cost of grooming for long-haired breeds if needed) and $1,174 for cats.

Will you have proper accommodations for the pet in question?

Different breeds and sizes of animals have different space needs. For instance, residents considering adopting a medium or large dog need to consider the animal’s need for exercise. Being cooped up in a small apartment all day might be fine for a very small dog, but a bigger dog may not respond well. The dog’s breed also plays a part – some breeds have much more energy, and consequently, benefit from more space.

Another consideration is what the animal is used to – if you are planning on adopting an older dog or cat, the pet may be used to more space or freely moving around the yard or neighborhood.

Finally, you should also consider the pet’s age. For example, a dog just past its puppy years will most likely have much more energy than a dog well into its adult years. For that reason, adopting a younger dog or a puppy into a small apartment may not always be wise.

Will your health allow you to properly care for the pet? While owning a pet provides numerous physical and health-related benefits, the daily responsibilities of owning a pet may become a burden for those with declining health or decreasing mobility. While animals such as cats may not need as much care as dogs, many pets require regular exercise or to be let outside to relieve themselves.

When considering adopting a pet, seniors should consider the future since this is a long-term decision – they may be able to adequately care for the pet right now, but declining health and mobility can make this a challenge in the future.

What happens when you can no longer care for your pet?

As mentioned above, declining health and mobility may make it difficult to care for the pet in the future. Those who don’t foresee a significant decline in health or mobility in the near future may still choose to adopt a pet, but they should make a plan for their pet should an accident or health problem suddenly arise.

Whether required by the community or not, it’s wise to arrange for a loved one or friend to care for the pet if you are unable to. Making this plan ahead of time can relieve stress and potential problems in the future.

Are the pet’s breed and temperament suited to an assisted living community?

Pets living in an assisted living facility need to be good with strangers and all types of people, since it’s normal to have staff enter your room or apartment on a regular basis to provide assistance with daily activities such as cleaning.

While this isn’t typically too big of a concern for a cat, residents who are considering adopting a dog need to be sure the pet is great with people. Also, keep in mind that dogs adopted from a shelter may have had bad experiences in the past with certain types of people. Large men, for example, may cause the dog to react aggressively due to past trauma even though the dog is normally very calm and docile.

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