senior woman holding her pet catUnconditional affection and loyalty, companionship, reasons to live and love…these are the essence of pet ownership.  Many studies have proven the value of pet ownership for senior citizens.  The findings underscore that an older person with a pet is ALMOSTa match made in heaven.

As one ages, new experiences occur which are not always welcome:  loss of independence, moving to new surroundings, loss of a spouse, loss of friends, changes in physical health.  These changes can create a time of increased loneliness, loss of interest in hobbies, and depression.  Love is a perfect prescription for loneliness, and there is no better delivery device for love than a happy bundle of fur also known as a pet.
The list of the advantages of pet ownership for the elderly is quite extensive.  From a purely medical point of view, studies have shown pet ownership to reduce blood pressure, reduce stress anxiety and to reduce depression.  Reduced rehab time after heart attacks has been documented in the pet owning population; coronary disease and cholesterol issues are reduced as well.  Pet owning seniors also visit the doctor less often.  Muscle strength and flexibility are better.  Many of these physical benefits are traced to the increased activity, such as walking, that pet owners undertake with their animals.  Walking also keeps them in touch with the restorative aspects of the surrounding community and nature.
Intangible, psychological benefits have been documented as well.  Stroking animals relieves stress, and the presence of non-judgmental, devoted pets combats loneliness.  As a result, depression, often due to loss and isolation, is greatly reduced.  The elderly also regain a sense of self-worth and self-confidence when they are responsible for the care and feeding of another life.
Additionally. pet ownership pushes seniors to take better care of themselves.  A trip to the grocery store to stock up on necessities or preparation of a meal may seem burdensome to some older people.   Once they are concerned about having food on hand for their dog or fixing a meal for their dog or cat, the daily routines become important again.
Pets also stimulate the brain, alleviate boredom and increase mental alertness.  Seniors with pets tend to be more engaged in reality and feel more secure.  Most of all, a pet is a huge ego boost for any owner; to be so loved is a great antidote to all the stress of life.  The love of a pet is summed up by the saying: “God, help me be the person my dog thinks I am!”
Despite the amazing aspects of pet ownership, a few disadvantages must also be noted.  Before investing in a pet, a person should review their budgets and activity levels.  Make sure that the care and feeding of the pet is affordable and the animal is not too strong or active. 
Active pets can also become a fall risk for a senior citizen.  A senior should be careful to choose a pet who does not jump up or get in the way of the elder’s feet.  Elders must also be careful of pet toys that might be left around the floor.
Some people feel pets reduce their ability to travel.  If you have an older person in your family, make sure that any pet ownership decision involves them; never just present them with a pet.
Pets occasionally carry diseases or cause allergies; these may be issues for people with compromised immune systems.  Additionally, when investing in a pet, make sure an alternate care plan is in place if the owner’s health changes.  Even if the animal needs to reside with someone else, they can still be brought for visits and continue their positive therapy.
Lastly, senior citizens need to face the potential of a pet’s death.  Often ownership of a new pet is the best antidote to the bereavement, but this depends on the elderly person’s wishes and situation.  Many older dogs at shelters are a perfect fit for these situations. They usually don’t go through that lanky overly-active puppy stage, are usually potty trained and often have already been spayed or neutered. There are foundations that help the elderly with the pet adoption cost if the animal is chosen from a shelter.
Although there are disadvantages to the elderly owning pets, the benefits far outweigh them.  With careful planning, these concerns can be overcome.  Senior citizens every day are living and breathing the benefits of the loving balls of fur that snuggle into their lives.
Image credit: Deposit Photos/Monkeybusiness


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