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The Paw-sitive Benefits of Owning a Pet for a Senior


Pets are known to be excellent companions for people of all ages, but they can have particularly significant benefits for senior citizens. Older people may face declining health or endure treatments that cause pain or discomfort, making them particularly susceptible to depression. Here are 15 ways pets can help seniors stay healthy:

  • Stimulating the brain
  • Stimulating the circulatory system
  • Reducing pain and stress
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Reducing heart disease risk
  • Reducing stroke risk
  • Overcoming limitations of ADHD
  • Providing companionship
  • Encouraging exercise
  • Improving sleep
  • Allergy prevention
  • Acting as a great distraction
  • Sense of purpose
  • Encouraging anticipation and gratitude
  • Physical therapy

According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan and sponsored by AARP, 70% of older adults confirmed that their pets assist them in coping with physical or emotional symptoms, while 46% reported that their furry friends aid in diverting their attention away from pain. The impact that pets can have on a patient’s emotional and physical well-being is truly astounding.

Physical Health Benefits of Owning a Pet for a Senior

As people age, their physical and mental health may decline, leading to a higher risk of chronic illnesses and other health issues. However, research has shown that owning a pet can have numerous physical health benefits for seniors. In this article, we will discuss four of the key physical health benefits of owning a pet for a senior: increased physical activity, lowered risk of heart disease and stroke, lowered blood pressure, and a better immune system.

Increased Physical Activity

One of the most significant physical health benefits of owning a pet for seniors is increased physical activity. Owning a pet can encourage seniors to engage in regular exercise and outdoor activities, such as walking, running, or playing with their pets. This increased physical activity can lead to improved mobility and flexibility, a lower risk of falls, and an overall improvement in physical health.

Lowered Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke

Another physical health benefit of owning a pet for seniors is a lowered risk of heart disease and stroke. Pet ownership has been shown to have a positive effect on various risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.

Lowered Blood Pressure

Owning a pet can also have a positive impact on blood pressure levels in seniors. Research has shown that petting a cat or dog can lead to a temporary decrease in blood pressure, which can have a long-term effect on overall heart health.

Better Immune System

Finally, owning a pet can help boost the immune system in seniors. Pets bring germs and bacteria into the home, which can help stimulate the immune system and make it stronger. 

How Pets Improve Senior Mental Health

Pets can provide a sense of comfort, companionship, and joy that can improve the overall quality of life. Below are some of the benefits that owning a pet can offer to seniors:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety: One of the benefits of owning a pet for seniors is reduced stress and anxiety. Pets can provide a sense of calm and relaxation, which can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. “Petting a dog or a cat can help to lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones and decrease anxiety,” says Dr. Rebecca Johnson in an interview with National Public Radio, a professor of nursing and director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri.
  • Lowered risk of depression: Seniors are at an increased risk of depression, which can lead to a range of health problems. Owning a pet can help lower the risk of depression in seniors. 
  • Increased socialization and companionship: Seniors who own pets also benefit from increased socialization and companionship. Pets can help seniors connect with other people and form new friendships. Taking a pet for a walk, going to the dog park, or attending a pet-related event can provide opportunities for social interaction. 
  • Increased sense of purpose and responsibility: Owning a pet can also provide seniors with an increased sense of purpose and responsibility. Caring for a pet can give seniors a daily routine and provide a sense of accomplishment. This can be especially important for seniors who may no longer be working or have other responsibilities.
  • Strengthened bond and relationship: Seniors who own pets also benefit from a strengthened bond and relationship with their pets. Pets can provide a sense of unconditional love and loyalty that can be especially important for seniors who may have experienced loss or are dealing with health problems.
  • Emotional support: Finally, pets can provide emotional support for seniors. According to the American Heart Association, owning a pet can help improve cardiovascular health and reduce stress levels.

Pet Policies and Guidelines Across Various Types of Senior Care Settings

Pets can bring joy, companionship, and other health benefits to older adults in various care settings. However, rules and policies regarding pets may vary across different types of care settings. Here are some general guidelines on pets in different care settings:

  • Assisted Living: Many assisted living communities to allow residents to have pets. However, there may be restrictions on the type, size, and a number of pets allowed. Residents may also be required to provide proof of vaccinations and ensure their pets are well-behaved and not a danger to other residents.
  • Independent Living: Independent living communities may also allow residents to have pets. However, like assisted living communities, there may be restrictions on the type, size, and a number of pets allowed. Some independent living communities may also require residents to be able to care for their pets independently.
  • Nursing Home: Nursing homes may have stricter policies on pets due to health and safety concerns. In some cases, pets may be allowed to visit residents, but they may not be allowed to live in the facility full-time. Exceptions may be made for service animals.
  • Memory Care: Some memory care communities may allow residents to have pets, but they may need to be supervised and monitored to ensure the safety of both the resident and the pet.
  • In-home Care: If a senior receives in-home care, they may be able to keep their pets with them. However, the caregiver may need to help with pet care tasks like feeding, grooming, and walking.
  • Care Homes: Care homes may allow pets, but the rules and policies may vary depending on the facility. It’s important to check with the specific care home to determine their pet policy.

Caring for a Pet as a Senior

Caring for a pet as a senior can have numerous benefits, including providing companionship, reducing loneliness, improving mood, increasing physical activity, and lowering stress levels. Pets can also offer a sense of purpose and responsibility, which can be particularly important for seniors who may be feeling isolated or lacking direction in their lives. However, it is important to consider the specific needs and limitations of both the senior and the pet before bringing a pet into the home.

When considering pet care as a senior, it is important to take into account any physical or mental limitations that may affect the ability to care for a pet. For example, seniors with mobility issues may have difficulty walking a dog or cleaning up after a pet, while those with cognitive impairment may struggle to remember to feed or care for a pet. It is important to choose a pet that is well-suited to the senior’s abilities and lifestyle and to consider any necessary accommodations or support systems that may be needed to ensure the pet’s well-being.

What Are the Main Questions to Consider When Choosing a Pet for a Senior?

When it comes to finding a furry friend for a senior’s life, there are a few key questions to consider before making a decision. These four questions can help ensure that the match is the best fit possible.

Are there any disabilities or functional limitations in the senior that need to be considered when choosing a pet?

While dogs can be great companions for seniors, they may not be the best fit for those with limited mobility. Perhaps a low-maintenance pet like a cat or bird would be a better choice.

What is the best age for a pet?

Puppies and kittens require a lot of attention and training, while senior pets may already be trained and settled into a routine. It’s important to match the pet’s age with the senior’s specific needs.

Could having a therapeutic or emotional support animal be advantageous?

If the senior is significantly incapacitated, a therapy dog with specialized training to aid them at home and during outings could be a great option.

Do finances pose a problem? 

Owning a pet can be costly, so it’s crucial to assess the senior’s budget carefully. A low-maintenance pet like a fish may be a better fit for someone on a limited income.

How important is the size of the pet when choosing a pet for a senior?

Pet size is a crucial factor to consider when choosing a pet for a senior. Larger dogs may not be suitable for seniors with limited mobility or living in small spaces, while smaller pets like birds or hamsters may be more manageable. It’s essential to select a pet that the senior can handle and care for comfortably.

Wrapping Up The Paw-sitive Benefits of Owning a Pet for a Senior

Owning a pet can have a multitude of physical and mental health benefits for seniors. Pets can provide companionship, encourage exercise, improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and offer a sense of purpose and responsibility. Owning a pet can also lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system. Seniors who own pets have reported reduced feelings of loneliness and depression and have increased opportunities for socialization and companionship. Owning a pet can greatly enhance the overall quality of life for seniors, making it a valuable and positive addition to their lives.

It’s worth noting that pet ownership policies and guidelines can vary across different types of senior care settings. For example, some assisted living facilities may allow pets, while others may have restrictions on the size or type of animal that can live with residents. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities may also have different policies regarding pet ownership.

Additionally, seniors who live in their own homes or with family members may have more flexibility in choosing and caring for their pets compared to those in senior care facilities. It’s important for seniors and their families to carefully consider the responsibilities and potential challenges of pet ownership, and to ensure that their chosen pet is appropriate for their living situation and physical abilities.

Before adopting a pet, seniors should also check with their healthcare provider to ensure that they do not have any health conditions or allergies that may be affected by pet ownership. Overall, while pet ownership can offer many benefits for seniors, it’s important to consider the specific policies and guidelines in different senior care settings and to make informed decisions about pet ownership based on individual circumstances.

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