Seniors and Pet Therapy

Health and Safety

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Updated: May 23, 2023


pet therapy for seniors

Pet therapy is a great way to increase quality of life for seniors.

Every day, people flock to YouTube to watch videos of pets as a form of entertainment and stress relief. Those benefits could be even more present in the life of your senior loved one if they had a pet of their own.  According to the pet therapy organization Paws for People, interacting with a gentle and friendly pet offers benefits to both physical health (lower blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, calming endorphin releases, and diminished overall physical pain) and mental health (maintained communication abilities, comfort, socialization, reduced boredom, lower anxiety, and decreased feelings of depression, isolation, loneliness, and alienation).

If you are considering a pet for your elder loved one, there are several things to consider.

  • Can your loved one afford the cost of pet care? This includes not only the expense of food and accessories, but the cost of spaying or neutering, and regular vet care as well. This is addition to the other costs associated with aging such as the Life Alert cost.  According to the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), a cat will cost its owner just over $1,000 in the first year, and a small dog will cost just over $1,300.
  • Is your loved one’s living space suitable for a pet? First and foremost, if your loved one lives in an apartment or condominium complex, they will want to verify that they are allowed to have pets.  The next consideration is space.  For example, if your loved one lives in a small one bedroom apartment, a smaller pet would be preferable. Finally, if they are considering getting a dog, they should be sure there are appropriate places nearby for walking and exercising their pet.
  • Is there a specific breed of dog your loved one is interested in adopting? If so, they should research it in advance to find out what is entailed with training that breed, and decide if they have the necessary patience and strength to handle it.
  • What is your loved one’s mobility? If they are disabled in way that would not allow them to walk a dog, consider other types of pets instead.
  • How old is the pet? For seniors, it is preferable to adopt an animal that is slightly older, as puppies and kittens need a lot of attention and energy.
  • Does the pet suit your loved one’s temperament? While researching the breed will give you a good idea of what a pet will be like, there are no absolutes.  It’s always a good idea to spend some time with a pet prior to adopting it to see if their personality suits that of your loved one.

Finally, you should definitely take into account that the time may come when your loved one is no longer able to take care of their pet.  Talk to your loved one in advance about what they would like to see happen in this instance.  If you are not able to take the pet in yourself, the next best thing would be to ask other family and/or friends to do so.  Otherwise, research the no-kill pet shelters in your area, as they will take care of the pet indefinitely until it’s re-adopted.