Pets and Elderly Owners: A Healthy Option


 Pets may help elderly owners live longer, healthier, and more enjoyable lives.

Scientists have started to explore the complex way animals affect human emotions and physiology. The resulting studies have shown that owning and handling animals significantly benefits health for seniors.

A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society in May of 1999 showed that independently living seniors with pets tend to have better physical and mental wellbeing than those that don’t. They’re more active, cope better with stress, and have better overall health. A 1997 study showed that elderly pet owners had significantly lower blood pressure overall than seniors without pets.

How do they do it?

First of all, most pets need some action from owners: walking, feeding, grooming, and fresh water. A pet can encourage playing and petting.  Just getting up to let a dog out a few times a day or brushing a cat can benefit the cardiovascular system and help keep joints limber and flexible. Pets may also aid seniors simply by providing some physical contact. Studies have shown that when people pet animals, their blood pressure, heart rate, and temperature decrease.

Pets can be excellent companions. They can minimize social isolation. Often the elderly have difficulty leaving home, so they don’t have a chance to see many people. Pets give them a chance to interact. This can help combat depression, one of the most common medical problems facing seniors. The responsibility of caring for an animal may also give your elderly loved one a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Pets also help seniors stick to regular routines:  getting up in the morning, buying groceries, and going outside.

Pets and the elderly have a lot to give to each other. Research and experience has shown that animals and older adults share their time and affection. Though pets can’t replace human relationships for seniors, they can certainly supplement them, and they can fill a senior’s life with years of constant, unconditional love.

These health benefit facts of pet ownership are from This is further proof that while we are taking care of our pets, they are taking care of us.

• Pets help to lower blood pressure. A recent study at the State University of New York at Buffalo found that people with hypertension who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations that those who did not own a pet.

• Pets help to reduce stress. Studies conducted worldwide but specifically by Josephine Wills of the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition in the United Kingdom show that the impact of a stressful situation is less on pet owners, especially males, than those who do not own a pet.

• Pets help to prevent heart disease. Research presented at the National Institute of Health's (NIH) Technology Assessment Workshop states that pets may provide their owners with greater psychological stability, plus a measure of protection from heat disease.

• Pets help lower health care costs. Also presented at the NIH Technology Assessment Workshop on Health Benefits of Pets was the fact that people with pets actually make fewer doctor visits especially for non-serious medical conditions.

• Pets help to fight depression. An article entitled "Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship" states that pets help fight loneliness therefore promoting an interest in life. When seniors face adversity or trauma, a pet's affection takes on a greater meaning. Bonding behaviors from a pet can foster a sense of security.

A pet is not a solution for everyone.  Be sure you discuss whether pet ownership is something a senior wants and feels they can handle.  If a pet is not a workable idea, therapy animals or visits from family pets may be an option.

Published on April 13, 2012.