Pet therapy for the elderly has become a popular method of mild therapy for senior citizens ( [i]). In fact, the documented benefits of interaction with pets are mental, emotional, and even physical. From pet therapy for depression, to pet therapy for anxiety, dementia, and more, the type of therapy can vary depending on the needs of the elderly. While ownership therapy – where an aging loved one living at home has a pet in the house, is proven to be the most effective type of pet therapy ([ii]), it is only really an option for seniors who are in relatively good health and who can take care of the animal themselves or have in-home care assistance to help them look after their pet.
In this article we are going to explore:
Not only do furry friends offer unconditional love and companionship, emerging research ([iii]) suggests that they have the ability to boost general health and well-being, especially in senior citizens. Pet therapy, also referred to as animal assisted therapy, is a kind of therapy that uses pets as a form of companionship and treatment. The aim of therapy could be to improve a senior’s emotional, social, or cognitive abilities.
Pet therapy is usually offered in a range of settings, including retirement living, community care, residential aged care homes, hospices, rehabilitation centers, and in a senior’s own home. Animals used for the therapy can range from domesticated pets to beautiful farm animals.
Did you know that pet owners tend to:
There are so many benefits of pet therapy for the elderly, including:
Pet therapy is by no means a new concept. The benefits of the human-animal bond has been documented for centuries, yet the relationship between a patient and a therapy animal seems to extend way beyond simple companionship. There are also emotional, physical, and mental benefits.
Emotionally, pets can provide the elderly with companionship, as well as:
The physical health benefits of animal assisted therapy usually depend on which kind of therapy is practiced and can include the following:
Pet therapy also provides several incredible mental benefits to patients, such as:
Typically, pets first have to undergo a special kind of training before they can be used in pet therapy. The training often involves the pet having to go through a range of likely situations with a trainer so that the pet learns the appropriate behavior and responses. It is important that the animal learns these responses so that they don’t panic when they are faced with a real-life scenario.
Animals that are used for pet therapy purposes also have to:
If you have an aging loved one who you think could benefit from pet therapy for depression and other ailments, or who simply could do with the companionship and you don’t want him or her to have their own pet, you will need to find the right pet therapy program. Different ways to seek out programs include:
Before you decide to buy a cat or dog for that special senior in your life, you should try a few things out first. To begin with, if you don’t know how the senior feels about animals, ask. You should also keep in mind that what a person wants and what he or she needs can be separate things. Besides asking your loved one how they feel about a pet, take some time to carefully consider whether or not they are able to take care of the pet, or if there is in-home assistance available.
If having a pet at home doesn’t seem like a possibility, find out if senior centers in your area have programs where animals come to visit a few times a week. They may even hold dog grooming classes as a fun senior activity. While not all seniors may be able to take care of a pet themselves, pet therapy may be just the thing to cheer them up and make them feel wanted.
There are a number of different types of pet therapy and each one delivers different benefits for different things.
Before undergoing pet therapy ([iv]), individuals or their caregivers should consult with a therapist who is familiar with the different approaches to figure out which type of pet therapy for elderly patients would be the most appropriate and beneficial.
If you decide that your aging relative would be able to own a pet, there is a lot to consider, especially when it comes to choice and responsibility.
The benefits of owning a pet for an older relative, whose world may be getting slightly smaller by the day, are wonderful. Affection, stimulation, companionship, and sheer joy are all to be gained with pet ownership, not to mention the health benefits mentioned earlier in this article. However, owning a pet comes with a list of daily responsibilities and chores, and the senior has to be ready and able.
Dogs, particularly, have daily requirements, and the senior or caregiver’s responsibilities will include:
As with other important topics that tend to be overlooked as we age, family members should make a concerted effort to get involved and discuss these issues. It will actually give your beloved relative a great sense of relief, especially when it concerns their most loved four-legged companion. Sadly, relatives and friends often don’t get involved until there is some sort of tragedy.
If your senior relative already has a pet and enjoys the benefits of pet therapy for the elderly, it is a good idea to establish a support system before something happens to your loved one. Family and friends may find volunteers, pet sitters, pet walkers, and even neighbors, who are prepared to help out for a small fee. What’s more, councils and local groups may be able to help out with feeding pets and grooming them.
Studies have reported the seniors who own pets tend to be sociable, get more exercise, look after themselves better, and pet therapy for depression comes with a range of benefits, too. A senior who lives alone craves responsibility and companionship and a pet is the perfect way to fill this void, while also providing a long and lasting bond.
If you are a senior looking for a furry companion or you want to get a pet for your aging relative, you need to choose carefully. The best pets for seniors are the ones that are compatible with the individual. What this means is that the pet should match the physical health, lifestyle, cognitive ability, and mobility of the person who will be looking after it.
Let us now take a look at the best pets for seniors.
If you would like to find a dog for a senior, the ideal scenario is to find a trained small or toy breed dog. You should be cautious of breed lists as they are only suggestions, and it will depend on the dog and the individual. Also, it is worth noting that you may want to be cautious of finding “just any old” Boston terrier, Maltese poodle, or Chihuahua, just because they have been recommended. A lot of the smaller breeds of dogs can be yappy, in need of loads of exercise, hard to housetrain, and just as difficult to medicate. Some larger and middle-sized dog breeds tend to be a lot calmer and well-tempered, even if they aren’t quite the right size to sit on your lap. Overall, temperament testing is key.
Overall, dogs do make sensational pet therapy for elders ([v]). Dogs are amazing at becoming in tune with their owners and they love unconditionally without asking for much in return. Just as long as the dogs receive their daily exercise, food, water, affection, and a cozy place to sleep, you can count on having a faithful companion.
For seniors with limited mobility or those who live in a small space, not any dog will do. Adult dogs are ideal as they are usually already housetrained. The best place to find an adult dog is as a rescue group or shelter. Younger people often overlook the older dogs in favor of puppies, so you can give that unwanted senior a home of his own.
The best dog breeds for seniors include:
Service dogs are also a great form of pet therapy for the elderly ([vi]). If the senior has mobility and health issues, a trained service dog can offer great companionship while keeping your elderly relative independent and living in their own home.
Cats are another ideal pet for seniors, ([vii]) particularly if the responsibility of training and owning a dog proves to be too difficult and demanding. Kittens are really cute, but they may also prove too much for an elderly person with failing eyesight or mobility issues.
However, a house-trained, adult cat ([viii]) chosen from a rescue center is a fantastic option. These cats are typically more content to entertain themselves and far more docile in nature. Unlike dogs who are happy to follow you all around, cats will come to you for affection when they want to – it’s all on their own terms.
As for needs, all a cat really needs is food, water, a litter box, a couple of toys, and a scratching post. A place to sit and watch the world go by also goes down well with cats and can keep them entertained for hours.
Cats make a great addition to an elderly household, especially if the elderly person has previous experience with cats. Feline companionship, as most cat lovers know, is intensely rewarding, takes a lot less energy than owning a dog, and is less time consuming, too. Choosing a cat with a nice temper and being able to clean a litter box is pretty much all it takes to enjoy your relationship with a cat.
Elderly people with compromised immune systems or extremely fragile skin will need to do their best to avoid getting scratched. You will also need to ensure that the elderly person will be able to give a cat medication when needed or that they will have in-home care assistance to do so.
Cats and dogs are ([ix]) amazing pet therapy options, but there are other options, too. A tamed cockatiel or parakeet (unlike larger birds than tend to live for decades), are also delightful additions and can certainly liven up a quiet household. If a senior person is interested in a bird, it can really be a match made in heaven. Birds can talk back constantly, providing a great deal of entertainment and companionship. Cockatiels, particularly, can be trained to have large vocabularies, so they really can fill a quiet home for someone who is entering their twilight years, and provide a great deal of life and movement. Birds don’t require much space at all and they can be trained not only to speak, but also to whistle, and even climb on their owner’s finger or hand. Believe it or not, birds can be fairly affectionate and they can enjoy gentle scratches just under their head feathers.
Pet therapy([x]) for depression lends itself well to fish! Fish are mostly low-maintenance, making them ideal for seniors. Just the act of watching them swim around is highly relaxing as well as entertaining. All you really need is a small aquarium that can pump out waste and keep the pH levels and water temperature stable. Goldfish, particularly, are hearty and can happily live with other goldfish. But, they will not do well if they are placed in a tank with a Black Moor or Fantail. A Siamese Fighting Fish, or Betta Fish, is also a good choice for senior citizens. A solo male is more than happy to live in a small fishbowl in a warm area. Females are also happy on their own, but can’t be homed in groups of five or more and two males can never be placed together.
So, it does take a little research, but owning fish can be very rewarding.
If you are considering getting a pet for your aging loved one, no matter how caring your intentions may be, it is never a great idea to choose a pet for someone else. Talk to your relative and other family members or caregivers and make it something you all do together.
Pet therapy for the elderly can provide a myriad of amazing benefits, along with companionship, entertainment, security, and warmth, for seniors looking for a living creature to bond with and look after. Pet therapy for depression and other ailments that seniors suffer from has been linked to lower blood pressure, less frequent visits to the doctor, and a tendency to line in the now instead of contemplating the future. Seniors tend to look forward to looking after and playing with their pets and they love to talk to them and share their thoughts. Overall, pet therapy is a wonderful alternative for seniors who do love pets and those who do not seem to respond to other types of therapy.