Healthy Living

Senior Health: The Paw-sitive Effects Of Pets

12/21/2016 09:08am ET | Updated December 21, 2016
Cristian Iohan Ştefănescu

Studies show the positive effect of pets on senior health and wellness

Pets play a significant role in our lives at every stage of development. As a child, they are often our best friend and sole confidant; as an adult, we become their owner, protector, and caretaker. And as an older adult, that bond can go even deeper.

Positive Benefits of Pets on Senior Health

Countless studies over the years have shown the positive health benefits of pets. Including one recent study that found that people who lived with pets had a more regular heart rate and lower blood pressure, even during periods of high stress. The study's conclusion determined that individuals who had a pet cat or dog were at an overall lower risk of heart disease. Additionally, Scientific American magazine recently reported that the mere act of petting your cat or dog causes our body to release the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin. Interestingly, oxytocin also plays a role in humans ability to emotionally bond with other living things.

Physical Benefits

The health benefits for seniors who have pets has been shown to include an improved overall sense of well-being.

Your level of physical activity increases when you have a pet. Whether you’re pulling a piece of string or another toy around the place in a game of cat-and-mouse with Fluffy, or taking Fido out for a walk, pets get us moving. Increased physical activity, a healthier heart, lowered stress levels, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease are just some of the tangible, physical benefits pets bring to our life. And a report published by the US National Library of Medicine showed patients released from the hospital after a heart attack, or other coronary health events, had higher survival rates and enjoyed longer lives when they had a pet in their home. The health benefits for seniors who have pets has been shown to have an improved overall sense of well-being.

And the psychological benefits of pets for older adults are just as powerful.

Psychological Benefits

The American Psychological Association has reported on the numerous psychological and social connections between feelings of greater self-esteem and overall emotional well-being, and a decreased sense of loneliness among seniors who had animal companions. Studies also show pets help alleviate depression and reduce the feeling of isolation that often accompanies depression. Animals often increase social interaction, too, especially in instances where the individual living with depression goes outside to walk their pup.

Seniors and Animal Care

When children and grandchildren leave home, often moving to a new neighborhood or town, their absence can cause many seniors to experiences a sense of isolation. A pet (or two) in the home reduces that feeling, providing valuable companionship.

And while many older adults are eager to adopt an animal(s), some fear the added responsibility may be too much for them in the long term. Some worry about being physically capable of caring for a pet, or about its care should they move into a long-term-care facility that does not welcome animal companions.

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animals can help combat the isolation that often accompanies depression

Seniors-for-Seniors

Understanding the benefits seniors receive by living with pets, and the staggering number of older homeless pets in need of forever homes, many animal rescue organizations and shelters have created seniors-for-seniors programs. These programs, like those at Pets for Seniors, Pets for the Elderly, and Senior Dogs 4 Seniors focus on older adults adopting older pets. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. Not only are senior pets (7 years or older) calmer, requiring reduced physical commitments, the connection between older animals – too often overlooked by new adopters for cute fluffy kittens – is often greater than anticipated.

Many who adopt older animals say they feel a deeper connection as if their older pet somehow understands the specialness of their new home; that they know they are safe from a harsher fate. These older animals often thrive in the quiet atmospheres of most senior’s homes, which are often adult-only. Additionally, the majority of older pets have had previous home experiences, or some ‘basic training’ in home manners. And most rescue organizations request that that should you become unable to care for your pet, that it be returned to their care.

A dog is the only thing on earth that will love you more than you love yourself ― Josh Billings

Petfinder is a great online resource for checking out pets looking for forever homes, and their search feature allows you to sort by age (senior), animal, breed, and even color preference (black cats and dogs are often the last to be adopted). And Seniors for Pets, Inc., a Florida-based organization, aims to ease the lives of seniors by “funding basic medical care” for the fur-kids.

And if your local humane society or animal rescue organization doesn’t already have a Seniors-for-Seniors program, a quick phone call is often all that’s necessary to start the ball rolling on creating one.

I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul ― Jean Cocteau

Other Ways To Connect With Animals

If your lifestyle just isn’t conducive to living with or caring for a pet, you can still get the benefits and provide some much-needed companionship to a homeless animal. By volunteering with your local animal shelter, you can get the health benefits while improving an animal’s quality of life. Most shelters are in desperate need of volunteers to sit and play with cats, and walk dogs. Check local websites or give them a quick call to find out about the various volunteer opportunities available.

Assisted Living With Pets

As more and more research is showing the benefits of seniors living with pets, more and more assisted living facilities are providing an opportunity for the elderly to bring their fur-family with them when they make a move. So when you’re scouting potential assisted living communities, be sure to ask if they’re ‘pet-friendly.’