What happens if your pet outlives you?

As many as 64 per cent of New Zealand households are home to at least one pet – making us one of the biggest animal lovers in the world. And it’s no wonder such a high proportion of our homes are shared with cats, dogs, and other animals, as these companions offer a variety of benefits for our health and wellbeing.

It hardly takes a report to know that being welcomed home from work by a tail-wagging dog can lift the spirits, or snuggling with a purring cat can offer a sense of genuine happiness – although these reports do exist.

For retirees in particular, pet ownership offers even more benefits, including:

Pets can get you exercising

One of the biggest benefits of pet ownership is regular exercise, regardless of the age or life stage of the owner.

Even small dogs need to be walked every day, which helps to ensure the owner gets outside for a quick stroll rain or shine. Walking improves and maintains fitness, cardiovascular health, muscle and bone strength, and it can reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Pets reduce loneliness

Pets provide constant companionship, and the kind of loyalty and love that you otherwise only find in close family members and friends.

Animals will often follow you around the house, sit with you (or on you) as you read and relax, and simply stay nearby whenever they can. Pets love this companionship too, and it’s hard to feel so lonely when there’s an adorable creature keeping you company at all times.

Caring for your pet while you’re here and after you’re gone

Here are some simple things to keep in mind when looking out for your pet's current and future needs.  

Regular visits to the vet

As much as little Mittens or Spot might hate the trip to the vet, it really is for their own good, and it’s as vital for good pet care as regular doctor visits are vital for us humans.

Find a local vet and make a recurring annual appointment to help your beloved fur baby stay healthy and happy (just make sure there’s a treat in it for them once they get home!).

A healthy diet

Obesity can be just as detrimental to a pet’s health as it is for humans, and it’s up to us as owners to make sure that doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, one SPCA study found that more than a quarter of dogs, and a fifth of cats, were overweight.

Carrying too much weight around can lead to diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, and other unwelcome issues, so keeping an eye on your pet’s weight and making dietary changes as required is an important part of responsible pet ownership.

Assigning a new owner

As you think about who you will leave your belongings and estate to when you pass, it’s vital to also consider what will happen to your feathered or four-legged best friend.

Speak to friends and family you trust to see if anyone would love to take them on board – they probably love your pet just as much as you do, and it would be great for the animal to go to someone they already know and trust.

If that’s not an option, name a charity or organisation you wish to give your pet to.

Setting money aside

From food and toys to vet bills and pet sitting fees, it has been estimated that caring for a dog costs roughly $1,686 per year. Cats are more affordable at an estimated $670 year, but no matter the animal, there’s no denying that responsible care and ownership of a pet is an investment.

If you are leaving your pet to a loved one or an organisation, it could also be a good idea to set aside some money in your will to cover these fees and help with their ongoing care.

Leaving instructions

After years with your pet, only you know everything about them. From their favourite brand of pet food to how they like to be held, to their personality quirks and fears.

As well as putting money aside and assigning someone to care for your pet, be sure to formally note down detailed instructions for care. This should include your usual vet, up-to-date medical records, vaccination and flea treatment information, diet information, and all of your pets likes and dislikes.

This will help your pet move into a new home with the least amount of disruption to their usual meals and routines as possible.

Making plans for your pet for when you pass is a sobering yet important part of estate planning, just like organising funeral insurance for yourself. Taking these steps now makes things that much easier for family and loved ones when the time comes, and you can rest assured that your pet will be cherished and looked after for years to come.