This holiday season when you go home to visit your family, don’t forget to check on the animals. Older family members may not physically or mentally be able to care for their pets. Younger family members may not be stepping up to take responsibility for the care of their pets.

In the ideal world, everyone would have the exact pet that they had the time and energy for. Pets give us so much in life. There are many studies that show the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Pets have been shown to decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Because pets depend on people the companionship means a decreased feeling of loneliness or depression and there is increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities. Being outside means there are increased opportunities for socialization. Perhaps that is why most households have at least one pet.

(The downside is that pets can carry harmful germs that transmit to us. These diseases from animals are called zoonotic (zoe-oh-NOT-ic) diseases. Normal sanitation can help prevent these, but very young and very old are more susceptible.)

If you are in the situation to be picking a pet for a family member, make sure that person actually wants a pet. Keep in mind how long the animal may live (decades for parrots), what they eat (fruit flies for dart frogs are a pain), how much exercise they need (a Great Dane pup is probably not a good pick for great grandma Louise). Keep in mind that there will be costs for food, grooming and veterinary care (think about pet insurance or a pet savings account). Don’t forget about the cost of time. If the new owner doesn’t want to brush or clean up after or exercise them, a pet that needs groomed, daily brushing and is not housebroken is not a good choice.

Older family members may not have the eyesight to notice that dogs are losing weight or are too fat to walk. I have had adult children bring in dogs with rotten teeth that they insist need to come out that day that their parents did not notice. Adult visitors also have the advantage of seeing the pet with fresh eyes. Mom and Dad may have seen Buffy every day and not noticed the subtle decline that is obvious if you haven’t seen them for six months to a year.

Physical disability can mean that dogs do not get taken out as much and soil in the house. At the same time, it is more difficult for older people to get down and clean up poop or pee. Even a housekeeper once a week can help with this. Or perhaps the replacement animal is a small dog that can be litter box trained or even a cat.

Sometimes older folks don’t think they have enough money to take their animal in for proper care. Instead of a trinket or unhealthy food treats that money could be spent on a grooming gift certificate or a prepayment on a veterinary bill. Routine care usually saves money and extends lives.

Sometimes older pet owners think they can handle more than they can. Two years ago, we took in thirty dogs from a single household. The owner had health problems and had too many dogs. Sometimes compulsive hoarding shows up in seniors. Compulsive hoarding includes ALL of the following: keeping a lot of items including apparently useless or little value (outside/caged only animals); there is clutter in the living spaces that keep them from using space or rooms as they were intended; and, these items cause issues with day to day activities. Fifty cats or thirty dogs that are hidden would fall in this category. A dozen named and well socialized cats probably would not.

Regardless, someone should know what animals will need to be cared for if the caretaker is incapacitated. Ideally pets should be included in the estate planning. This should include a guardian and/or enough money for veterinary care, temporary boarding and emergency expenses. Regardless, planning ahead makes sure that you are not making a decision during a crisis. The best scenario is that a family member or a friend can take the pet. This adoption could even be less stress to the pet because they know the friendly face.

If nobody in the family or friend group can take the pet, a reputable rescue group may be able to help. This should be a licensed group with standards in place for adopters. Good rescues have adoption fees and usually have contracts for pet care. A shelter may be another option. Shelters vary in their facilities and adoption rates. Be aware that this may mean the pet is euthanized if the pet is not adopted within a specific time frame. To avoid this, you may need to temporarily board the pet while seeking an adopter. Not all boarding is created equal, so you probably want to scope this out in advance.

You should always charge an adoption fee ($60 to $100) to an individual owner. Do not advertise on Craigslist or as “free to a good home.” Often people seeking pets for free will resell the pet or use it for food (reptiles and other carnivores) or dog fighting.

It is not easy to think of parents or other family members getting older, senile, infirm, or going to assisted care facilities. It can be complicated by the pets needing homes also, but the pets need care also, so take a look. Also take a look at your children’s pets. Are they well cared for? Do they need anything? Are they happy? Both young and older folks may need a little extra help.