There are many benefits of pet ownership for seniors’ well-being, as a furry friend can be the perfect companion as you age. In our latter years, we often have fewer family, work, and social commitments. Friends may have moved or passed away and if mobility has declined, it may be harder to get out to visit others, which can enhance the benefits of pet ownership for seniors.
In any of these cases, a pet can provide a source of companionship, a sense of purpose, and surprising health benefits. You will want to make sure that the pet will fit into your lifestyle, but in many cases, a furry friend can provide tremendous support in your later years. This article will examine some of the benefits of pet ownership for seniors, things to consider while choosing an animal, and how to start your pet search once you have made a decision.
Table of Contents
- 3 Benefits of Pet Ownership
- Considerations before you get a pet
- How to find a pet
- Last Thoughts
3 Benefits of Pet Ownership
Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors #1: Companionship
Whether you prefer cats or dogs, an animal companion will provide you with a sense of purpose. After all, they need you, and meeting those needs will help to add structure to your day, which is one of the benefits of pet ownership for seniors.
The right animal can also be a source of some fun, but even if your preference is to find a calmer companion, a dog or cat can be an antidote to loneliness and increase your happiness. There is an old meditation principle that if we find ourselves looking for happiness, the best solution is to help others find their happiness, and that in doing so, happiness will find us. Spending time with a pet is one way to follow this wisdom.
Modern science has also shown some surprising health benefits of pet ownership; for instance, this Harvard Medical School Special Health Report, Get Healthy, Get a Dog, notes that you can reduce your blood pressure and heart rate just by petting a furry friend.
Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors #2: Exercise Buddy
If a senior isn’t limited by mobility issues, a dog can be a great help in maintaining your physical fitness. Dogs need to get out and move, which will make walking a daily habit while providing routine and structure. This is an excellent reason why seniors should have a dog!
If you are looking for ways to create connections in your community, dogs can also create good opportunities to socialize. A dog is a great icebreaker with other dog owners, and if your pup likes to get out at the dog park, you may meet people with similar interests and schedules to your own.
It is important to find a dog whose exercise needs mesh with your lifestyle, but regardless of the breed, dog owners who walk their pets are more likely to get the recommended amount of daily physical activity than individuals without a pet to walk. While you don’t need a dog to get exercise, a pup who needs exercise will provide powerful incentives to get them outside if you don’t give them some attention!
For seniors whose mobility is more limited, a cat or a smaller dog breed that doesn’t require walks can be the perfect option. A friend in her nineties once noted that she and her husband had always said they would own “real dogs” as they raised Mastiffs and Dobermans in their younger years, but that their four-pound Pomeranian brought just as much joy in their old age.
Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors #3: Sound the Alarm!
If you aren’t entirely comfortable going for a walk on your own, a dog has the added benefits of protection and a greater sense of safety. In the home, a barking dog is a great deterrent to a potential thief or a door-to-door visitor you prefer not to speak to. If your hearing has declined, a dog can also provide useful package delivery alerts, yet another benefit of pet ownership for seniors.
Considerations before you get a pet
There are plenty of potential benefits of pet ownership for seniors, but there are also factors you must take into account, particularly for an aging adult.
The first thing to consider is the senior’s ability to take care of the pet. As noted above, if an adult has a physical constraint, a cat or small dog could be preferable to a larger breed of dog, but there are other potential constraints to consider. If you or a loved one is not in a place to care for an animal, it is unlikely that you will realize the benefits of pet ownership for seniors.
For instance, if you like to travel, and do not want to bring your animal with you, then you need to have plans in place for their care while you are gone. There are a variety of ways to make this work; kennels often offer boarding, and a site like Rover.com can make it easy to find excellent pet and house-sitting options, but there are costs involved with these services that should be considered.
Another thing to consider is how the animal fits into your long-term timeline. If you anticipate that a senior apartment or living community is in your future, you may be able to keep a cat or small dog, but not all facilities permit this, so your options could be limited. It is also important to note that dogs above 30 pounds are often a no-go, which is a good thing to keep in mind if you are looking for a pet but might be moving into a senior living community in the next few years.
It could also make sense to get an older dog or cat; their timeline may line up better with your own, and you can avoid the high-energy puppy or kitten years if that’s no longer quite your speed. You may also feel better having a plan in place for your animal if something unexpected happens. If you reach a point where you are unable to take care of your pet, it can be a comfort to know that someone will take over their care.
How to find a pet
If you are looking for an adult pet, a good local shelter can help match a pet with the adopting owner. There are excellent online rescues, such as Petfinder.com. There are also breed-specific rescues; my husband and I recently adopted a wonderful soft-coated wheaten terrier through the Wheaten Terrier Rescue! We had previous experience with Wheatens, and knew Finn would be a good fit for us, but you should research the breed of dog that will help you maximize the potential benefits of pet ownership for seniors.
Amazingly, Finn, an 8-year-old Wheaten, was on a national site but lived in our city. He needed a new home, and we were ready for a new furry family member!
Bringing a new pet into a senior’s home can have widespread benefits on the senior’s health and quality of life. The health benefits of pet ownership for older adults stem from the fact that getting a new pet is a way of investing in life by committing to being there for another living being. If a pet is a right fit for you, bringing a companion into your life is a vote for more fun, joy, and fulfillment in the days to come!