Benefits for the Elderly of Owning Pets (for Both of You) !

Now, why would a senior want to get involved with owning pets, you ask?

elderly woman owning pets

Benefits for Seniors

Most people have heard that the Centers for Disease Control recommends that adults engage in 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity.   For many seniors walking is a common way to get their activity.  Walking is low-impact, can be done most anywhere, and requires no special equipment except some high-quality shoes.

For many of us getting started is the hardest part. Imagine having a reason to walk every day! Owning pets can provide just that reason. A University of Missouri study found that older adults who are dog owners have lower body mass index (BMI), fewer physician visits, and a potential increase in social interactions. This is one more study in a long line of research into pet ownership showing health benefits.  These benefits include higher survival rates from heart attack, general reduction in cardiovascular disease, and overall improved well-being.

But as any pet owner knows, the benefits go well beyond the physical. A 2011 series of 3 studies by psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University showed that pet owners exhibited psychological benefits, too.  These benefits included greater self-esteem, a tendency to be less lonely, more conscientious, extroverted, less fearful, and less preoccupied than non-pet owners. Wow!

OK, so that all sounds good. But let’s get specific! Many other side-benefits come from these big picture ideas around owning pets. For example, getting outside with your dog can elevate your mood immediately.  And the sunshine increases your body’s production of Vitamin D.  This vitamin is known to help fight depression, cancer, obesity, and heart attacks. Those 150 minutes of exercise per week (with your dog?) can lead to lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

What to do on a rainy day? Well, petting or grooming your dog or cat can be relaxing for both of you. In fact, when you connect with your pet, your oxytocin levels rise -- oxytocin is our body’s “feel good” brain chemical. And, of course, having a pet to care for can give you a sense of purpose, if your day is otherwise open or mostly unstructured.

Pets Other than Dogs Count, too!

Now, as a dog owner, some would say I forget about those other furry little friends, our cats. For many seniors, keeping up with the responsibilities of a dog can require a lot of effort. But most cats can provide many of the same health benefits, save the walking ones, as a dog.  But, kitty requires far lower energy investment by their owners.  In fact, owning pets of any type (think birds, hamsters, ferrets, gerbils, etc.) can likely provide many of the same benefits.  Chose the pet that fits your lifestyle!

I would be remiss if I didn't discuss the benefits of pets in Alzheimer's/Dementia care.  Pets can reduce anxiety and depression in individuals with dementia.  And they can trigger fond memories of past pets.  Just be cautious, as they could also trigger opposite emotions if the individual is afraid of the animals.  As with all dementia care, it is important to know the person's history in order to try to target care as closely as possible to them.

Benefits for Pets

Finally, I promised you some benefits for the pets, too. Well, if you consider rescuing a pet, maybe even a senior pet, you will be giving that doggie or kitty the chance of a lifetime. What almost any rescue-worker will tell you is that it is much harder to adopt out senior (usually older than 7 years old) pets. Many people want the excitement of a puppy or kitten. Yet, there are far fewer young animals in most shelters.  You can find rescues near you at

People often assume they are adopting a “problem pet.” But after just a few visits to shelters and reading the cage cards, you will find that most of the problems belonged to the prior pet owners. Things like “new job,” “new baby,” “moving to a new apartment,” or sometimes, sadly, “moving to assisted living or nursing home.” Earlier this year we adopted a 15-year-old dog whose owners turned him in simply saying, “too old!”

Former “working” dogs (breeders or lab dogs mostly) are also great choices for adoption, too! These pets sometimes don’t know anything about the “good life” of living in a private home with you. They become so very appreciative and show their affection and love just by sitting in your lap!

In case you aren’t sold yet, here are Top Ten Reasons to Adopt and Older Dog.

Help for You or Your Loved One if Caring for a Pet has Become Difficult

If you or your loved one has a pet that is becoming hard to care for give us a call.  Did you know we can help with Pet care?  Many of our caregivers have cleaned litter boxes, walked dogs, taken you and your dog to the vet, bought pet food, and much more!

OK, what do you think? Please feel free to comment below!