The Benefits of Pets for Seniors

Written by Meghan, Healthy Living Expert on Thursday, August 04, 2016

Over the last few years, the news has buzzed with tidbits about how pets can improve our lives. Many pet owners can attest to the value of their furry family members. And increasingly, older adults recognize that having an animal around can help with their wellbeing. Indeed, cats and dogs can have a positive impact on the physical and mental health of seniors. So should you consider getting an animal companion for your loved one? 

This is a decision you should not make lightly. Animal ownership can have tremendous benefits. But getting a pet is a big commitment, and for many older adults, the challenges and potential hazards outweigh the benefits. Before heading to your local shelter, consider all the pros and cons of getting an animal for your loved one.

The Benefits of Having Pets

Every year, new research illuminates the many benefits of pet ownership for people, including for older adults. Studies have found that furry companions help humans in numerous ways. 

  • They can reduce stress and depression.
  • They provide physical protection – something that can be especially valuable for seniors who live alone.
  • They reduce social isolation. Pets get you interacting with others, whether it’s during daily walks or less frequent trips to the vet.
  • They may reduce high blood pressure.
  • They provide companionship. Although animals aren’t the same as human friends, they can nonetheless provide people with a sense of connection.
  • They can increase physical activity. Whether your loved one will be walking his dog every day or simply getting up to feed your cat, he will get extra exercise just by having a pet in his life.

Should Your Loved One Get a Pet?

While pets come with many benefits, they aren’t appropriate for every older adult. Getting a pet is a big decision and you and your elderly loved one should consider carefully whether introducing an animal to the household is a good idea. First, consider whether your loved one can provide adequate care for a pet, including maintaining a regular feeding routine, providing daily exercise, and tending to grooming and veterinary needs.

If your loved one is unable to provide for all a pet’s needs, you may be able to find someone else who can. For example, if she has limited mobility and cannot get out for daily walks, perhaps a paid dog walker can do the task. Regular, paid help – assuming it fits the budget – may allow your loved one to have a pet, even if she can’t entirely care for it herself.

For many older adults, having their own pet is simply too much work. If this is the case, consider other ways to reap some of the benefits of pet ownership. Pet therapy is an increasingly common service that may be provided in your area. Therapy animals visit sick or homebound patients and provide love and attention for a short time. You can also consider ways to incorporate some informal pet visits from furry family friends or neighbors.

While pets come with many benefits, there are risks for older adults. If your loved one is prone to falling, pets and their toys may create dangerous situations. Talk to your loved one’s care team to determine whether a pet is appropriate for his or her situation.

Other Points to Consider

If you’re thinking about getting a pet for your loved one, keep these additional tips in mind.

  • Consider adopting an older pet. Older animals tend to be calmer and will benefit from the love and gentle attention of an older human.
  • If your loved one lives in a care facility, check with facility first. Many facilities do not allow pets or place restrictions on breeds or sizes of animals.
  • While cats and dogs are the most common pets for older adults, you may consider other types of animals. Fish, while they don’t provide the broad range of benefits that cats and dogs do, may nonetheless come with many of the perks of pet ownership.

Having pets can benefit older adults in many ways, but be sure to consider all the factors before making a decision. When it comes to making longer term decisions about your loved one’s future care, remember that Paying for Senior Care can offer thorough answers to your toughest questions. Ask our Long Term Care Expert your big questions today!