Seniors Owning Pets

Elderly woman petting a dog.

The combination of seniors and pets can provide wonderful benefits for our older citizens.  Most folks who have ever had a pet are aware that animals just make us feel good.  Research tells us that only 15 minutes spent bonding with an animal can set off a chemical reaction in the brain that lowers stress hormones and increases “feel-good” hormones.  The immediate result is slower heart rate, lower blood pressure and a reduction in stress.  Over time, it appears pet & people interactions can improve physical, mental and emotional health.   This can be especially powerful for seniors and pets.

Physical Benefits

Caring for a pet requires some physical activity, whether walking or brushing a dog, playing with a cat or getting up to feed the fish and clean its tank.  Regular movement has many health benefits beyond improving mobility.   Exercise has been shown to help manage or even prevent age-related illnesses and elevate your mood. Research has shown that pet owners generally visit the doctor less often, take less medication, recover from illness faster, and cope better with stress.

Mental Benefits

Being with a pet provides mental and memory stimulation.  Pets live in the moment and can help keep us focused on the present. Planning for the needs of a pet gives our lives added meaning and purpose.  Petting an animal has a calming effect that has been shown to decrease agitation in folks with dementia and just makes seniors and pets feel better. 

Cat & dog snuggling.

Emotional Benefits

Connecting with an animal can reduce loneliness and bring about a renewed interest in life.  This is turn leads to increased self-esteem, improved social skills, less anxiety and a reduced risk of depression.  Animals listen without judging and provide unconditional affection.  Walking a dog may be a good way for you to meet other dog owners, who often stop to chat on their daily stroll.

Pet Ownership Vs Pet Visits

Just being around animals makes most people feel happier and healthier, however, there are drawbacks to pet ownership.  Adopting an animal will affect your routine.  If you are not one who appreciates change, owning a pet may not be the way to go.  However, there are other ways to get your animal fix. 

If you are mobile and able to get out, volunteering at a Humane Society to help walk the dogs or socialize the cats can be a great way to benefit yourself and the animals.  Visit a friend or neighbor with a pet – or ask them to bring the pet along on a visit to you.  Folks with trained therapy pets may be available in your area to make regular visits at your location.  Many senior living facilities have live-in pets due to recognition of all the wonderful benefits for seniors with pets.  

Petting the cat.

Pet ownership does depend on the health and specific situation of the potential pet owner. An older dog will usually be more mellow and require less training and exercise than a puppy.  Someone with limited mobility might be better off with a cat or bird, which require less care and are less likely to be a trip hazard to the owner.

If the senior is living alone and has cognitive issues, it would be best to have pets visit rather than stay where proper care might be uncertain. And pets can be expensive, so it is helpful to assess your financial ability to provide adequate resources for pet care.   It’s possible a care provider who visits frequently could be tasked with attending to the pet’s physical needs. 

The Senior and Pet Bond

The bottom line is that animals can be a powerful source of healing and healthy interaction for seniors.  For some, pets can be life-changing, with physical, mental and emotional benefits available to all.   The bond between seniors and pets will bring positive results – even if only 15 minutes at a time.