Pets and the Elderly

Studies have shown that pets can extend a persons life by up to seven years. Those who have pets report higher levels of satisfaction than those who do not have animal companions. Having a pet can also reduce stress or loneliness, and inspire a person to get more exercise.

The many benefits of pets explain why pets are used as therapy dogs. Pets that pass appropriate tests and receive appropriate certification are used in all sorts of settings. Pets may visit childrens’ hospitals or cancer wards to provide the patients with a moment of happiness and comfort. Certified therapy dogs also visit nursing homes, to bring happiness to senior citizens. The documented health benefits of time spent with a therapy dog are remarkable, and it is clear that even a brief period spent with a calm and loving dog can make a strong impact.

Because of the positive health effects, many senior citizens can benefit from the companionship of an animal.

Those senior citizens living in their own homes, either alone or with spouses or children, can have a far greater quality of life if they have a companion. A dog can provide the impetus necessary to get a senior citizen out of the house and into the community. A dog encourages senior citizens to exercise and stay active. A dog can help a senior citizen living alone to feel less lonely or isolated. Finally, a dog can provide protection, especially for elderly women living alone.

However, a senior citizen must take into account the high energy level of a puppy, and the type of breed that they are interested in having. Puppies and very high energy breeds such as beagles or Jack Russell terriers require a great deal of walking and exercise in order to avoid boredom which can lead to destructive behavior.

Therefore, a senior citizen who is not very active will want to avoid breeds that require walks that exceed the boundaries of the human’s comfort level.

Older dogs, or rescue dogs, may be the ideal choice for senior citizens looking for a companion. These older dogs are generally past the puppy state and are content to have a human to sit with them on the couch, pet them, scratch their bellies, and otherwise share a calm and comfortable life. The relationship between a rescue dog and a senior citizen can have a very positive impact both for dog and owner alike.

Senior citizens also want to be aware that they must make arrangements or accommodations for their pets, in case the owner becomes unable to care for the pet for whatever reason. Often, family members or close relatives are willing to assist in the care of a dog or a cat, should the senior citizen become unable to care for the pet themselves. This option should be discussed prior to the situation arising, so the responsibility for the dog or cat is clearly assigned should its owner become unable to care for it.

In reading online pet memorials, it is clear that people form very strong bonds with their animal companions. Animal companions are treated as family members, sleeping with their owners and being memorialized with pet urns or pet headstones when they eventually pass. This level of emotional attachment can be very healthy for everyone, but especially for seniors who are in need of day-to-day companionship.

Colleen Mihelich
Owner, Peternity . . . honoring your pet for eternity

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