The Benefits Of A Pet For The Elderly

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If you're a senior thinking about getting a pet or a younger adult considering giving a pet to an older relative, discover the benefits and possible drawbacks of pet ownership for the elderly, as well as how to get the most from pet ownership during the golden years.

Gifts of Pet Ownership

If you watch an older person happily interact with a beloved pet, the fact that he or she is receiving more than entertainment is unmistakable. What might surprise you is how extensive and varied these benefits of pet ownership are. Here are some of the many perks seniors get when they bring an animal companion into their lives:

  • Better mood: Since pets offer so much love and happiness, senior pet owners suffer less depression and have better general moods than those without pets.
  • More active lives: Playing with pets, walking dogs or changing a cat's litter box gets seniors moving around and exercising more than they might otherwise.
  • Lower pulse rate, cholesterol and blood pressure: This is due to the fact that pet ownership encourages physical activity as well as the general calming effect of animals.
  • Improved overall health: Pet ownership tends to encourage older people to take better care of themselves, resulting in better health.
  • Increased human interaction: Whether you're walking your dog, taking her to the park or even visiting the vet, you'll run into lots of people to talk and interact with. Additionally, children and grandchildren tend to visit older adults with pets more often than they would if that person didn't have a pet.
  • Decreased loneliness: Even when no humans are around, older people can enjoy the companionship of a pet.
  • Unconditional love: No matter what your age, appearance or health, your pet will love you with all of his or her heart.
  • Sense of purpose: Knowing they're needed by their animal friends gives many retired people a reason to get up early each morning.
  • Increased self-esteem: How could anyone not feel better about themselves when they're loved so intensely by a pet?

Possible Drawbacks of Pet Ownership for the Elderly

Although pet ownership for seniors us usually an overwhelmingly positive experience, you should be aware of these possible risks:

  • Those with compromised immune systems due to illness, chemotherapy, medication or organ transplants might be at risk of catching an infection from a pet.
  • Elderly people with thin, fragile skin might be at risk from scratches.
  • Seniors with poor balance could be knocked over by an enthusiastic, jumping pet.
  • Older people with impaired vision or balance might trip over a pet and fall.
  • Certain pets may outlive their older owners.
  • If a pet owner has memory challenges, he may forget to feed the pet, feed the pet too many times a day or forget to take a dog outside. This could lead to health and hygiene issues for the pet and pet owner.

Tips for Senior Citizens with Pets

Rather than discouraging pet ownership for older people, understanding the possible risks presents an opportunity to take measures that will make the experience safe and satisfying for everyone involved. Before bringing home a pet for yourself (or your parent), here are a few tips to create a healthy, happy experience:

  • Observe energy levels: When choosing a pet, find one with an appropriate energy level for its older owner. A high-energy puppy or kitten that needs round the clock care might overwhelm all but the most energetic of seniors. A full-grown or even an elderly pet might be calmer and better suited to an older human. Evaluate prospective pets carefully for temperament and energy to find just the right match between human and animal friend.
  • Consider hiring a trainer: A professional trainer helps pets to learn not to behave in ways that might hurt their older owners, such as scratching or jumping on them. Some dogs might even be able to be trained to get up and move when an owner is about to trip over them.
  • Think about overall maintenance: Try to choose a pet breed that generally enjoys good health and doesn't need extensive grooming.
  • Plan for the future: No one wants to think about passing on, but if you love your pet, be sure to will it to someone who will care for it if it outlives you. This is particularly important with long-lived species such as African gray parrots.
  • Consider getting help: If you or your older relative is unable to fully care for a pet, this doesn't have to be an all or nothing decision. Seniors who have memory impairments or certain physical challenges may still be able to bring home a pet with a little help and support. Perhaps someone just needs to come in once or twice a day to feed or walk a pet. Or perhaps the pet could spend some time every day with an elderly companion and then return to a home where more care could be provided.

So bring a little love into your life and watch the magic unfold. The special bond between a pet and his older owner will brighten countless days and might just extend the lives of everyone involved.

Last Updated: August 12, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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