Benefits Pets Bring to Seniors

Pets provide a comfort system and actually produce  a chemical chain reaction in the brain that helps to lower levels of of the stress-inducing hormone, cortisol, and increase the production of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. In fact, pets have been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress levels in humans and can actually help lower cholesterol, fight depression and help protect against heart conditions. All great reasons for seniors to have a pet!

However, it’s important to ask these 4 questions before getting a senior a pet (read more):

  1. Is anyone allergic?
  2. Who will care for Fido?
  3. What breed makes the best couch potato?
  4. Who will choose the new pet?

This Huffington Post article discusses how “caring for an animal stimulates physical activity and gives many people a feeling of purpose.” This is especially important for seniors as exercise and purpose promote healthy living. The article further discusses that the relationship is not one-sided; the benefits are reciprocal to both pet pet and owner.

Happily, there are resources for older pet owners to keep their pooch or beloved cat or pair pets with older people. Programs are springing up around the country to keep man and “beast” together.

Owning a dog or cat — or for that matter, any animal that depends on you and provides companionship — can lower depression, anxiety, stress, blood pressure and triglyceride levels. You’ve undoubtedly read about many of the scientific benefits of having a pet, which also includes:

  • Improving mood and eating
  • Boosting activity levels and social interaction
  • Encouraging routine

In addition to these benefits, pets can also enhance quality of life by reducing loneliness, which leads to poor mental and physical health. Pets bring purpose to older people’s lives, especially at a time when fewer people depend on them. Not only can they distract a senior from his or her own health issues, but, in the case of dogs, keep them from being sedentary. They also provide the human touch that is vital to people of any age.

Often a pet is the only “family” someone has nearby, if at all. It’s important to remember that for most, giving up a pet is the equivalent of sacrificing your first-born child.

Keeping Pet and Parent Together

If you are looking to help keep your parents or a senior loved one together, bone up on these tips:

1. Analyze the situation. Does Dad have a physical limitation and/or financial constraints? Is his dog lacking exercise? Reach out to friends, family and neighbors. Can your son give the dog a bath? Consider doggie day care, with pick up/drop off, socialization and exercise. A neighborhood kid could take the pooch to the park or change kitty litter.
2. Find a veterinarian who makes house calls. Are there groomers in your area that will wash and gussy up your “baby” in a van parked outside? Does your parent need a dog walker? Let’s Join Paws is a website that matches owners and caregivers.
3. Explore pet health insurance.
4. See if the place is pet-friendly.
5. Rule out puppies and kittens if your parent wants to get a pet. A dog that is housebroken and been taught manners will be less work and less rambunctious than a puppy or kitten (although older pets have more health issues and can be costly).

A Community News blog post

West Toronto Support Services writes articles about events and news in the community that closely align with our agencies mission of living independently and promoting your health & wellness.   Articles posted under community news don’t necessarily mean we directly endorse them – they are articles of interest that you can pursue further.   We believe a healthy community is a diverse and connected community!

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