Studies show that pet ownership can have positive effects on physical and mental health, especially in seniors. Depression and loneliness can happen at any age, but seniors are particularly at risk due to limited mobility, illness, isolation, and the loss of friends or family members. Taking care of a pet can help ease feelings of loneliness through companionship, connection and unconditional love. Let’s take a look at three key benefits of pet ownership: Physical Health - People with pets tend to have lower blood pressure, heart rate, and heart-disease risk than those without. Caring for a pet has been linked to improved physical health in seniors. Pets provide motivation to get up and move around. Taking one’s dog for a walk encourages going outside and enjoying fresh air while getting exercise—something that is especially important to someone living with mobility issues. Mental Health - Pets bring joy into our lives by providing unconditional love and companionship, which are both calming and reassuring—especially for those who might feel isolated or alone. Watching animals interact with each other can also help seniors feel connected to something larger than themselves—which may help ease feelings of sadness or depression. Caring for a pet also provides structure; it adds routine to daily life which can make it easier to stick to healthy habits like exercising, eating well, and taking medications on time. Socialization - Having a pet encourages social interactions with others. Walking a dog gives offers a reason to talk to people you might otherwise not have encountered. Inviting grandchildren over to help care for the pet helps fosters strong relationships between generations while providing valuable life lessons in responsibility, compassion, and empathy (not to mention lots of fun!) The bond between humans and animals is powerful. There are so many benefits that come from having a pet as an older adult — from improved physical health, increased emotional well-being, companionship, structure, routine, and even social connections! Factors to consider before bringing a pet into your senior’s home:
- Physical Limitations - Cats often require less care than dogs or perhaps consider a canary or other bird.
- Therapy Pets - Some people qualify for a specially trained therapy pet. Speak with your doctor, social worker, or senior center about this possibility. Online resources are available for information about requirements and restrictions
- Pet Age - A young pet may be more work than your senior can handle. An older pet may have debilitating issues of his own. Finding the right balance is important.
- Pet Temperament - Make sure you understand the temperament of the pet, particularly dogs. Some breeds are higher-strung and will require more effort and supervision.
- Health Check - The health of the pet is important to understand as there can be issues that may require expensive vet bills and an unknown lifespan.
At any age, pet ownership is a responsibility that should be taken seriously. You can help your senior find local resources for dog walkers, pet sitters, traveling veterinarians, and low-cost clinics. Whether you opt for a small bird or large dog, adding some furry (or feathered!) love into the home could be just what is needed for your loved one to feel more engaged and connected. Ultimately, adopting an animal companion may just be the best decision you make!