The Benefits of Pets for the Elderly

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While any pet owner can certainly attest to the endless benefits of living with a furry friend, research confirming the health benefits of owning a dog for elderly individuals have appeared in many well-respected publications and medical journals. 

Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets, specifically dogs, can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Some of the health benefits of having a pet include: decreased blood pressure, decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels, decreased feelings of loneliness and increased opportunities for socialization.

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Loneliness can become an unwelcome companion as we get older and can lead to depression as well as physical problems. Dogs mold their schedule and personality to you. They are never unavailable or off duty. Smaller dogs, in particular, can easily travel with you wherever you go.

Having a Daily Routine

Having a pet is a responsibility but needn’t be taxing. The routine of caring for a pet can give structure and purpose to daily life. Maybe you don’t always want to get out of bed, but your pet wants you to, and isn’t that a good thing? Dog owners usually need to go outside several times per day so their canine companions can have an active lifestyle. Especially an energetic breed.

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When you have a routine, you know what you need to do each day, which can help you stay focused and accomplish more. You are less likely to waste time trying to figure out what to do next. You know what to expect each day, which can reduce uncertainty and stress. This can help you feel more in control of your life and reduce feelings of overwhelm.

This is why choosing the best dog breeds and right pet with the breed characteristics that suit you will help you enjoy your golden years even more. The best dogs and cats make wonderful companions, and your daily routine will include spending time with them, going on short walks, and unconditional love.

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Safety and Security

Having a dog can provide significant security. Potential thieves will stay away from a home with a barking dog. Now, maybe your watchdog weighs only 12 pounds soaking wet. But the person on the other side of the door doesn’t know that.

Dogs, in particular, have a keen sense of hearing and smell that allows them to detect potential danger, such as an intruder or a fire. They may bark or growl to alert their owner to the danger and can be trained to perform specific tasks, such as retrieving a phone or pressing a button to call for help.

dog as a friend for seniors

Making New Friends

There are lots of shared activities for pet owners, ranging from communal walks to charitable events and projects run by local shelter or by organizations that cater to animals and the environment. It can be hard to meet new people, but pets are a great icebreaker.

When people take their pets for walks or to the park, they are often surrounded by other pet owners and their pets. This can create an opportunity for socialization and the chance to meet new people who share a common interest in pets.

Overall, pets can help people to connect with others and to build social relationships with furry friends. However, it's important to remember that not everyone is comfortable around pets, and some people may have allergies or fears that make it difficult for them to interact with pets. When approaching others with a pet, it's important to be respectful of their boundaries and to ask for permission before allowing the pet to interact with them.

Getting Outside

Having a pet, and particularly one that requires regular outdoor activity, helps you stay connected to life. There’s the vet. The place you have your dog groomed and washed. You need to be involved in social activities. Having a pet is a good way to stay involved and get more daily exercise.

Pets, and small animals, particularly dogs, require a lot of walks or playtime. This increased activity can also improve cognitive function, as exercise has been shown to improve brain health and function.

Feeling Useful

Sure, you need your pet. But your pet needs you, too. The desire to be useful and of value doesn’t magically disappear when your career ends or your kids grow up and build their own independent lives. It is very satisfying to take care of another living thing.

A Life Investment

At the end of the day, having a pet means that you have made a promise to continue being involved in another life. This commitment is one of the most positive decisions you can make as you grow older.

Improved Cognitive Function

Studies have shown that interacting with pets can improve cognitive function and memory in seniors. Interacting with a pet, such as petting a dog, going for a walk, or even engaging in activities, provides sensory stimulation that can help improve cognitive function. This type of stimulation can activate the brain's reward centers, which in turn can improve focus, memory, and attention.

Reducing stress also contributes to improvements in cognitive function. Pets can help reduce stress, which is a common factor in cognitive decline. When a person interacts with a pet, it can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can improve cognitive function.

Lowering Blood Pressure

Studies have also found that owning a pet can lead to lower blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Interacting with dogs and dog breeds can lower hypertension symptoms. There have been numerous studies that have shown a positive correlation between dog ownership and reduced hypertension.

Interacting with dogs (or other pets) has a calming effect on humans, which can lead to this decrease. One study found that petting a dog for just 15 minutes can reduce blood pressure in both the person and the dog.

In addition to this, interacting with dogs can also have other health benefits, such as reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and increasing physical activity. A dog can be great for the physical health and emotional health in an older person. Stress relief is very important.

So, Should Seniors Have Pets?

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Whether or not seniors should get a pet depends on a number of factors, including their physical ability, lifestyle, health issues and living situation. Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a senior should get a dog or cat:

  1. Physical ability:

    Seniors should consider their physical ability when deciding whether to get a pet. Some pets require more physical activity than others, so seniors should choose a pet that matches their energy level and ability to care for the pet. Some breeds of dogs are total couch potatoes, such as French bulldogs, while others require very long daily walks and activity, such as the border collie.

  2. Lifestyle:

    Seniors should consider their lifestyle when deciding whether to get a dog or cat. Some pets require more time and attention than others, so seniors should choose a pet that fits their lifestyle and schedule.

  3. Living situation:

    Seniors should consider their living situation when deciding whether to get a pet. Some living situations, such as apartments or assisted living facilities, may not allow pets or may have restrictions on the size or type of pet allowed.

    Some apartment living situations only allow small breeds of dog such as the bichon frise, shih tzu, or cavalier king Charles spaniel. Small dogs can be great companions for senior citizens in small living quarters.

  4. Financial resources:

    Seniors should consider the financial resources required to properly care for a pet, including food, veterinary care, and other expenses.

If a senior citizen is physically able and has the time, resources, and desire to care for a pet, there can be many benefits to dog ownership, as I mentioned earlier. However, it's important to carefully consider all of the factors before deciding to get a pet, especially a dog, and to choose a pet or dog breed that matches the senior's lifestyle and ability to care for the pet. Additionally, seniors should be prepared to make arrangements for their pet's care in the event that they are unable to care for the pet in the future.

Disadvantages and Risks of Elderly and Dog or Cat Ownership

While there are many benefits to pet ownership for the elderly, there are also some potential disadvantages to consider:

  1. Physical limitations:

    Seniors may have physical limitations that make it difficult for them to care for a pet, such as difficulty lifting heavy bags of pet food or walking a large or energetic dog.

  2. Financial constraints:

    Older adults may be on a fixed income and may have limited financial resources to devote to pet care, which can be expensive.

  3. Time constraints:

    Some pets require a lot of time and attention, which can be challenging for elderly pet owners who may have other commitments, such as caring for grandchildren or attending medical appointments.

  4. Increased risk of falls:

    Pets can create hazards in the home that can increase the risk of falls, such as tripping over toys or leashes.

  5. Social isolation:

    While pets can provide companionship and reduce social isolation, some older adults may become too isolated if they rely solely on their pet for social interaction, which can have negative effects on their mental health.

  6. Grief:

    Losing a beloved pet can be a difficult and emotional experience, which can be particularly challenging for older adults who may have experienced multiple losses in their lifetime.

It's important for seniors to carefully consider all of these factors before deciding to get a pet, and to choose a pet that matches their lifestyle and ability to care for the pet. Seniors should also be prepared to make arrangements for their pet's care in the event that they are no longer able to care for the pet.

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Overall, having a pet can greatly enhance the quality of life for seniors, both physically and emotionally. However, it is important for seniors to carefully consider the responsibilities and costs associated with pet ownership before deciding to get a pet.

It's important to note that owning a dog is a big responsibility and should not be taken lightly. It's important to consider the time, effort, and financial resources required to properly care for a dog before deciding to get one. If you are unable to care for a dog, there are other ways to interact with dogs, such as volunteering at a local animal shelter or petting therapy dogs in a controlled environment.