Pets Are Comforting Companions for Seniors

Have you ever heard of cartoonist Charles Schulz’s saying “Happiness is a warm puppy?” Well it’s actually a very true statement. Numerous studies have shown that people who own pets benefit both mentally and physically from their unconditional love and companionship. This is true for seniors as well, especially those who live alone.

If you know an elderly person who might enjoy having a pet, there are many benefits as well as challenges to consider before deciding whether or not a full-time, live-in pet is a good idea.

Benefits

A pet provides companionship, someone to talk to, someone to make them feel loved. Pets give people structure, a reason for getting up in the morning because they need to be fed, perhaps taken for a walk.They also need to be groomed and played with, and occasionally taken to the vet. And, pets can give great hugs just when you need one most.

Seniors with pets tend to have:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced stress
  • Fewer chances of depression
  • Increased cognitive function
  • Better appetite
  • Better mobility
Drawbacks

On the other hand, although there are many advantages to having the friendship of a pet, you also have to determine if your senior has the means and ability to take care of a full-time pet.

Things to consider:

  • The cost of having a dog or a cat can amount to hundreds of dollars a year for food, veterinary visits, and preventative care to avoid heartworms, fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites. Can your senior afford to have a dog or cat, or would a bird or fish be a better choice? There is financial help out there for those on a fixed income. Some veterinarians offer low cost spaying, neutering, and veterinary services, but that doesn’t cover the cost of food and preventive health care costs.Click here for more information.
  • Is your senior mobile enough to be able to take a dog for walks? Can they bend over and clean out a cat litter box?
  • Many seniors have balance issues and may have serious falling accidents caused by rambunctious dogs or cats wrapping around their legs.
  • The welfare of the pet needs to be taken into account too. What if your senior gets hospitalized? What if the pet outlives its owner? Plans will have to be made for someone to care for the pet if the owner is unable to, and someone will need to accept responsibility for the pet if the owner passes away or moves into a facility that doesn’t allow pets.
Other Options

If your senior is unable to provide full-time care for a pet, there are still ways to give them access to the warmth and comfort of furry companions. Visits with pets provide a great way to bring seniors something that will brighten their day and allow them to forget about their health or anxiety for a while. Visiting pets provide a calming touch and interaction without having the responsibility of full-time ownership.

First, however, find out if your senior is okay with having visits from animals.

  • Do they have any allergies to pets?
  • Are they afraid of any animal in particular?
  • Do they have a special fondness for any animal in particular?

If a friend or family member has a pet that they are willing to bring by for visits, that may be a perfect solution. Or, if no pet is readily available, there are pet therapy services that make house calls or visit senior living centers such as the volunteer run organizations:
Alliance of Therapy Dogs
Therapy Dogs International

Encouraging seniors to adopt pets, bringing family pets by for a visit, or granting more access to therapy animals could improve their well-being. It’s always good to have a furry friend who is happy to see you, and pets really can lessen some of the difficulties that come with age.