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The Benefits of Pets for Seniors


Living with pets brings people joy, as well as physical and mental health benefits. 

That is why more than 70% of American households have pets. More than 55% of adults older than 50 have pets in their homes. 

If you have an older relative who might benefit from the companionship of a pet, there are certain things to keep in mind to truly add to their quality of life.

The Benefits of Pets for Seniors

Pets provide unconditional love, companionship, and snuggles, and those things are hard to measure scientifically. But there is plenty of science showing the physical and mental health benefits of living with pets.

Improved Mental Health

Pets provide a sense of purpose and a reason to get moving, which helps us feel better inside and out. Studies have shown that living with pets helps people manage stress, anxiety, and depression.

A 2016 study by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) showed that pets helped people with mental health conditions have a stronger sense of identity and provided security and routine. They also distract and disrupt symptoms such as hearing voices and suicidal thoughts. 

The University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation conducted a national poll of seniors and pets and found

  • 88% of pet owners said their pet helped them enjoy life.
  • 86% said their pet made them feel loved.
  • 79% said pets reduced their stress.
  • 73% said their pets gave them a sense of purpose.
  • 65% said pets helped them connect with other people. 

Better Physical Health

That same University of Michigan poll showed that 64% of pet owners saying that having a pet encourages physical activity. Walking the dog really does count for regular, moderate exercise, which helps reduce obesity and increase overall health.

A study of adults over 50 with mildly elevated blood pressure showed that the presence of a dog or cat lowered blood pressure. 

According to the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), people who don’t have cats have a 40% higher relative risk of heart attack than non-cat owners.

Pets and Loneliness

Seniors get lonely as they age, grown children move away, and partners and friends pass away. But pets serve as a buffer against loneliness. Studies on animal-assisted therapy show that older people who live in long-term care facilities have fewer depressive symptoms and improved cognitive function. 

What Pets Are Best for Seniors?

Not every pet is a good fit for an older person. This article in Senior Lifestyle has some good questions to ask yourself and your senior loved one if they are thinking of getting a pet.

  • Can they take care of the pet’s needs?
  • How long will they be able to walk a dog, scoop a litter box, or play with the animal?
  • Do they have enough time to keep a pet healthy and happy?
  • If they can’t take care of the pet, who can care for the animal?
  • Are the costs of food, training, and veterinary care affordable?

Where Will You Get Your Pet?

Adopting from rescues, humane organizations, or shelters is often the most affordable way to get a pet. And adoption saves lives. There are so many pets surrendered to shelters every year that millions are euthanized.

It’s usually not free to adopt, but it’s more affordable than buying from a store or a breeder, and the animals are often vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and microchipped before you get them. These initial veterinary services can decrease how much it would cost to get a pet. 

Dogs from breeders or pet stores can cost thousands of dollars, and some can have serious health problems if they came from unethical breeders. Mixed-breeds are just as wonderful and make excellent pets.

If the pet is going to live with a senior, consider adopting an adult or senior pet. They will be less energetic and less likely to hurt someone than puppies and kittens, who are learning to use their sharp claws and teeth. On the other hand, they may have health problems associated with aging, which may increase the cost of caring for an older pet.

Pets and their Health Costs

The first veterinary visit you should make is right after you get your pet. Show them the paperwork you have showing the ost recent vet care visit. Your veterinarian can confirm that your new bundle of joy is healthy and is they identify any health problems, they can help you decide if they're going to be a good fit for you.

There are many adorable dogs and cats out there, but some that look cute to you may have serious health problems that can lead to expensive care. There are common cute features that people enjoy that aren’t great for a pet’s health. 

For example, animals with short snouts, such as French bulldogs (Frenchies) and Persian cats, can have serious breathing problems that require expensive surgery to help them breathe more easily.

Long-haired cats and dogs with thick, long coats are pretty. They need to be brushed regularly so their fur doesn’t get matted. Matted fur can lead to serious health problems, so it’s best to brush them daily. If you can’t manage to brush your long-haired lady, you can go to a groomer, but it does increase the cost of care. Also, some long-haired pets need to be sedated with veterinary-approved medications to make the experience less stressful for your pet and safer for the person grooming them. 

Living Spaces and Pets

Some seniors live in apartments and think that pets won’t thrive there, but millions of pets live happily in apartments. Apartment dwellers need to think carefully about which pet is right for their lifestyle and what restrictions there are at the apartment complex before bringing their current pets or getting a new pet. 

Many apartments market themselves as "pet-friendly,” yet their rules may be too limiting depending on several factors. If a senior can comply with the apartment complex’s rules, there are tips for teaching dogs and cats to live happy, healthy lives in apartments.

Landlords often restrict the size of apartment dogs. However, some big dogs, including retired greyhounds, love to lounge around all day. Some of the smaller breeds have a lot of energy and can bark a lot. It depends on the individual animal to decide if they’ll make great apartment pets. And, of course, obey the rules set by the landlord.

It's also common for rented housing to require pet-owning residents to pay a non-refundable deposit plus monthly fees for each pet in the home. You will need to know if that fits within your budget.

A Senior’s Best Friend

When adopting or purchasing a pet, ask lots of questions, and be sure to have at least one in-person meeting to make sure the connection is there. Just remember that some animals are shy at first, and we often don’t know what they experienced before we met them. But most will relax and provide huge amounts of love and companionship.

Keeping a pet can be expensive, but most senior pet owners say they wouldn’t trade it for the world. Help is available for low-income pet parents

We hope every senior who longs for an animal companion will choose wisely and find their best friend.

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