Pet Therapy for Senior Citizens

For many older adults, health issues and limitations can keep them from socializing the way they once did. Pet therapy for senior citizens is quickly becoming an uplifting experience for them. Mostly living alone, seniors can struggle with depression, loneliness, and poor physical health. Linda Anderson works with seniors in Bryn Mawr, PA; she says, “Pet therapy…has been shown to benefit seniors by improving depression and anxiety symptoms and increasing self-care.” Studies have shown the many benefits of unconditional love from a pet. Even better: many animal shelters offer a “Seniors for Seniors” program, matching seniors with a senior dog companion.

Benefits of Pet Therapy for Senior Citizens

It is true that owning a pet can increase a senior’s overall well-being, but even just brief periods of time with an animal can help. Pets for the Elderly Foundation has collected research on the benefits of pet therapy for seniors.

Physical Benefits

  • In regards to heart health, interacting with a pet can lower your blood pressure. This lowers the risk of any cardiovascular disease.
  • Having a pet increases your physical activity; exercising your dog with walks and playtime keeps you active.
  • Because pets rely on a schedule, they will hold you more accountable for your own health. Staying on a schedule for them helps people maintain their own schedules.

Social Benefits

  • Increased socialization comes with caring for a dog, walking them and taking them outside to play. Seniors are bound to run into a neighbor or friend outdoors.
  • Pets can be great conversation starters, taking your dog to the dog park is a great way to find people to converse with.
  • Visiting with animals allows seniors to tap into memories from childhood, stimulating one’s memory.
  • Much like their pets, pet owners are forced to live in the moment as dogs will move on to the next moment immediately. This will help them to avoid dwelling on the past.

Emotional Benefits

  • Providing companionship, a therapy pet will decrease loneliness in the life of an elderly person. Pets are also a wonderful source of love and affection.
  • Being with a pet increases levels of serotonin, helping to reduce stress. Pets also provide physical contact, reducing feelings of anxiety.
  • Many seniors become discouraged by their age and lack of mobility. Pets will keep seniors company and shower them with love, boosting their confidence and mental health.
  • Pets make us do things for them even when we don’t want to do it for ourselves. They rely on a schedule and constantly demand attention, giving seniors a sense of purpose.

Before Getting a Pet…

It is important to consider what goes into caring for a pet, especially when relying on a senior for care. Seniors don’t need a pet that requires any extra care besides being fed, walked, and loved. Here are some important points to consider when finding the best pet for your loved one:

  • Type of Pet: Many seniors have trouble with mobility and may choose a cat over a dog.
  • Long-term Care: Consider whether or not your loved one will need to be in an assisted care facility in the near future. This may impact the decision to get a pet, and the kind of pet.
  • Pet-Owner Experience: A pet may not be a good idea if your loved one has no prior experience with them. Also, a major change such as adopting a pet may be overwhelming for some.
  • Finances: If there are any financial troubles, bringing a pet into the home isn’t a good idea. They require a lot of care that can be expensive.
  • Temperament: It is important to make sure the pet’s temperament fits that of the senior. A calm, obedient pet is the way to go. Many shelter employees can help match dogs (or cats) to potential owners.
  • Adoption: Adopting a shelter pet is a great idea for seniors because the pet is typically already house-trained and well-mannered. These animals will also benefit the most from the added love and attention.

While a pet should never be given as a gift, if your loved one is open to the idea of adopting a dog or cat as a companion, do your research! Many shelters are happy to assist you in the process and will always find a match. Support your local animal rescues and any seniors in your life by suggesting a loving 4-legged companion.

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