Owning a pet can have substantial physical and psychological benefits for an elderly person. Dogs especially can provide an older person with companionship, security and a reason to pursue physical activity. While an elderly person must consider the work and responsibility that comes with owning an animal, the pros to pet-owning can far outweigh any cons.
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Owning a pet can improve an aging person's physical well-being. First and foremost, having a pet keeps a person physically active. Dogs need to be walked regularly, and even cats need to be played with and cleaned up after. Pets also provide additional physical benefits. Seniors who keep pets are often found to have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and lower levels of triglyceride.
Even more pronounced than the physical benefits of owning a pet are the psychological benefits many elderly people enjoy after buying or adopting a pet. Pets help relieve the sense of loneliness that many seniors experience and help decrease incidents of depression in the elderly. Animals are especially beneficial in helping an older person work through the loss of a spouse or loved one. Seniors who own pets tend to take better care of themselves and take part in more social events and outings. Animals also offer many older people an enhanced sense of security, which can reduce the person's stress levels.
When taking on a pet, an elderly person should weigh some concerns against the potential benefits. Pets do require a certain amount of time and physical care, so it is important the potential pet owner is sure he is able to take on the responsibility or that he has a caregiver or family member who is willing to help. Potential pet owners should also be tested for allergies to make sure the pet will not cause any health problems. Finally, keep in mind that many seniors live on fixed incomes and may not be able to afford the costs that come with a cat or a dog.
Choosing a Pet
Many kinds of animals are suitable for elderly people, but dogs tend to provide the kind of companionship many seniors seek. Small dogs are often easier to handle than larger ones, especially if the person lives in a small condo or seniors apartment complex. Puppies can also be troublesome, so look for slightly older dogs that have already been trained. Recommended dog breeds for elderly people include terriers, chihuahuas, cocker spaniels and other small- or medium-sized, even-tempered dogs.
By Lisbeth Booth
"Psychology Today"; No Puppies or Kittens for the Elderly: Animal Shelters Take a Wrong Turn; Stanley Coren; January 2011
The Pets for the Elderly Foundation: Articles
University of Iowa Health Care: Pets for the Elderly -- The Benefits
Puppy Basics: Best Dog Breeds for the Elderly
About the Author
As a professional journalist since 1998, Lisbeth Booth has worked as a writer and an editor at several magazines. Her career has focused on music and film criticism but she has also written about lifestyle topics such as parenting and home design. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Calgary.