It’s fairly easy to form a list of ways to help seniors to live healthier, more active lives. They can take vitamins or medications to stabilize health conditions. It helps to take exercise, find enjoyable activities, and many other things. Some of these things help seniors to feel healthy and energetic, others help to alleviate the loneliness that many older adults experience. The U.S. Census Bureau states that 11 million people over the age of 65 lived alone in 2014. While many older adults live alone, they don’t have to be lonely. Owning a pet is a good way for older adults to enjoy daily companionship.
When thinking about pets, dogs and cats are usually the first animals that come to mind, but other types of animals can also make good pets. It’s important to get the right pet, as well as the right species of pet, that suits the senior’s living environment and lifestyle. When choosing a pet, it’s important to realize that adopting an animal is a long-term commitment that requires providing care and attention on an ongoing basis. When an older adult finds the right pet and brings them home, they often develop a mutually beneficial, loving and caring relationship to last a lifetime.
Here’s what you need to know when considering matching an older adult with the perfect pet.
Health Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors
Pets aid older adults in many ways, including physically, socially, and emotionally.
Pets May Improve Physical Health
Some pets, particularly dogs, need regular exercise. Walking a dog helps older adults to stay mobile which helps them to be independent as long as possible. Regular exercise increases the overall physical and emotional health of seniors and pet owners spend an average of 22 additional minutes walking per day. Consumer Affairs reports that seniors who have pets have lower blood pressure and make fewer visits to the doctor than seniors without pets.In one study 94% of heart patients with pets survived heart attacks compared with only 72% without pets.
Other physical benefits of pet ownership include a reduction in risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 26%. This is partly due to pet owners reaching the recommended level of physical activity of about 2.5 hours per week. These are just a few of the physical health benefits to pet ownership.
Pets Improve Social Health in Seniors
Loneliness is a problem for many older adults when their family members live far away or are busy with their own lives and families. Lack of transportation often makes it difficult to get together with friends and participate in activities. Loneliness sometimes leads to emotional issues like depression. Being alone also sometimes contributes to physical ailments and a decrease in mobility. Regular activity improves overall health which leads to improved social and emotional health.
Having a pet gives older adults a reason to get out and interact with the community. Approximately 40% of pet owners report receiving social support from people they met through their pet. Pet ownership inspires some seniors to become more involved in their communities. Most communities have pet rescue centers where seniors can volunteer, and some organizations also allow seniors to bring pets into hospitals and nursing homes to help cheer up patients.
Talking about pets is a surefire icebreaker which makes it easy for seniors to strike up a conversation with other pet owners, or just about anyone.
Pets Improve Emotional Health
Older adults who own pets are less likely to be lonely. Just seeing their pet when they wake up in the morning or come back home for the day makes them smile. All pets, regardless of which kind, need care and attention. Pets give seniors a reason to get out of bed in the morning and start the day. Dogs, in particular, need regular bathing, grooming, walking, feeding, and bathroom breaks. They also need time to play and run off some energy.
Many types of pets enjoy being held and cuddled. Some pets have a keen way of providing emotional feedback, and can even help their owners stay calm during stressful times. Pets can help enhance feelings of security (both inside and outside the home).
Share This Infographic On Your Site
What Characteristics Make the Ideal Pet for Older Adults?
Many people have their hearts set on getting a dog or cat before they begin their search for the perfect pet. However, dogs and cats aren’t always the best pets for older adults. Depending on the living environment, and the needs and abilities of the senior, birds, fish, and other small furry animals can also make nice companions. The individual needs and characteristics of a pet make a substantial difference in whether the relationship will work out in the long run. In choosing a pet, consider the home environment and personal lifestyle. Impulsive buys may lead to a poor fit. You won’t want to have to rehome the pet later on. It’s best to narrow down the type of pet that seems most suitable, and then do a little more research to make the most informed decision. Here are some quick tips to get you started.
Many dogs make great companions for seniors. Generally, smaller dogs are easier to care for, and those with smaller dogs have more options for housing and travel. Puppies are very high energy and require lots of time and consistent training to make them good companions. Adopting an older dog from a shelter or rescue is often a good choice for seniors.
Cats can be fascinating and affectionate pets. Shelters typically have many older house-trained cats that are looking for homes. Cats require less space and energy to care for than dogs and are often content with an indoor-only lifestyle.
If you’ve noticed that many doctor and dentist’s offices have aquariums, that’s because it’s mesmerizing and relaxing to watch fish swim around in a tank. Betta fish are low maintenance because they don’t require a heater or filter. Tetras, Guppies, and Angelfish are also strikingly beautiful fish to add to an aquarium. Goldfish are another pretty fish that don’t require a heater or much maintenance.
Small birds like parakeets can make good pets for seniors. Birds can learn to sit on a finger and respond to a few small commands. The sweet sounds of chirping, cooing, and singing can bring joy to a quiet home. Many types of birds can live for a very long time (20-70 years), with larger birds tending to live longer than smaller birds. If pleasing the neighbors is a concern, smaller birds aren’t typically as loud as larger birds.
Other Small Mammals
Small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs can also make good companions. If they have been raised to enjoy being handled by humans, they can be fun and affectionate pets. Some small animals enjoy living with another pet of their own kind, so adopting a pair often makes sense.
Final Thoughts About Seniors and Pet Ownership
Many seniors enjoy pets but can’t make the commitment of full-time pet ownership. Those seniors might consider opportunities for interacting with pets in their communities such as pet days at local senior centers, pet-sitting opportunities, or volunteering at a local pet shelter.
Whether seniors make an informed commitment to pets on a full or part-time basis, it’s sure to be a mutually rewarding experience.
Anderson, W., Reid, C., & Jennings, G. (1992). Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The Medical Journal of Australia, 157(5), 298-301.
APPA. (2015). 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owners Survey: American Pet Products Association.
Chowdhury, E. K., Nelson, M. R., Jennings, G. L., Wing, L. M., & Reid, C. M. (2017). Pet ownership and survival in the elderly hypertensive population. Journal of Hypertension, 35(4), 769-775.
Curl, A. L., Bibbo, J., & Johnson, R. A. (2016). Dog walking, the human-animal bond and older adults’ physical health. Gerontologist. doi:10.1093/geront/gnw051
Dall, P. M., Ellis, S. L. H., Ellis, B. M., Grant, P. M., Colyer, A., Gee, N. R., Granat, M. H., & Mills, D. S. (2017). The influence of dog ownership on objective measures of free-living physical activity and sedentary behavior in community-dwelling older adults: A longitudinal case-controlled study. BMC Public Health, 17(1), 496.
Enders-Slegers, M.J. (2000). The meaning of companion animals: Qualitative analysis of the life histories of elderly cat and dog owners. In A. Podberscek, E. S. Paul, & J. A. Serpell (Eds.), Companion Animals & Us: Exploring the Relationships Between People & Pets (pp. 237-256). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Friedmann, E., Katcher, A. H., Lynch, J. J., & Thomas, S. A. (1980). Animal companions and one-year survival of patients after discharge from a coronary care unit. Public Health Reports, 95(4), 307-312.
Friedmann, E., Thomas, S. A., Son, H., Chapa, D., & McCune, S. (2013). Pet’s presence and owner’s blood pressures during the daily lives of pet owners with pre-to mild hypertension. Anthrozoös, 26(4), 535-550.
Headey, B. (1999). Health benefits and health cost savings due to pets: preliminary estimates from an Australian national survey. Social Indicators Research, 47(2), 233-243.
Knight, S., & Edwards, V. (2008). In the company of wolves: The physical, social, and psychological benefits of dog ownership. Journal of Aging and Health, 20(4), 437-455.
Levine, G. N., Allen, K., Braun, L. T., Christian, H. E., Friedmann, E., Taubert, K. A., Thomas, S.A., Wells, D. L., & Lange, R. A. (2013). Pet ownership and cardiovascular risk: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 127(23), 2353-2363.
Rogers, J., Hart, L. A., & Boltz, R. P. (1993). The role of pet dogs in casual conversations of elderly adults. The Journal of Social Psychology, 133(3), 265-277.
Rosenkoetter, M. M. (1991). Health promotion: The influence of pets on life patterns in the home. Holistic Nursing Practice, 5(2), 42-51.
Siegel, J. M. (1990). Stressful life events and use of physician services among the elderly: The moderating role of pet ownership. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(6), 1081-1086.
Stanley, I. H., Conwell, Y., Bowen, C., & Van Orden, K. A. (2014). Pet ownership may attenuate loneliness among older adult primary care patients who live alone. Aging & Mental Health, 18(3), 394-399.
Thorpe, R. J., Simonsick, E. M., Brach, J. S., Ayonayon, H., Satterfield, S., Harris, T. B., Garcia, M., & Kritchevsky, S. B. (2006). Dog ownership, walking behavior and maintained mobility in late life. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 54(9), 1419-1424.
Turner, D. C., Rieger, G., & Gygax, L. (2003). Spouses and cats and their effects on human mood. Anthrozoös, 16(3), 213-228.
Wood, L. J., Giles-Corti, B., Bulsara, M. K., & Bosch, D. A. (2007). More than a furry companion: The ripple effect of companion animals on neighborhood interactions and sense of community. Society and Animals, 15(1), 46-56.
Wood, L., Martin, K., Christian, H., Nathan, A., Lauritsen, C., Houghton, S., Kawachi, I., & McCune, S. (2015). The Pet Factor: Companion animals as a conduit for getting to know people, friendship formation, and social support. PLOS ONE, 10(4), e0122085.