People of all ages are often quick to relate fond memories of sharing their lives with a beloved pet. There are many benefits for people of all ages, including seniors, of owning a pet. Continuing to have pets in later life, and as you age, can be an essential element to promoting an active and healthy lifestyle.
There’s nothing like coming home to a wagging tail and a smiling face.
There’s nothing like coming home to a wagging tail and a smiling face. Well, actually, watching your favourite TV show with a ball of fur curled up beside you is a close second.
Pets make such good companions because they are seen as dependable, loyal, and non-judgmental. No matter how active or inactive someone may be, pets are happy to spend time walking, eating, or just lounging on the couch. As long as they’re with the person they love, they are happy.
How do pets make good companions for seniors?
Stress relief - It’s well documented that spending time with a dog or cat (or any type of pet), and holding and petting them, helps to lower blood pressure. Pets reduce stress and have a calming effect, allowing people to focus on something other than their own problems.
Exercise partner – When you own a dog, even a small dog, you need to make time for a daily walk. Plus, most dogs, and even cats, enjoy some playtime during the day, helping to keep their elderly owner engaged and active.
Companionship – Some people feel isolated as they get older. This could be due to difficulty leaving the house, or they don’t have many opportunities for social interaction. Companion dogs or cats help lessen feelings of loneliness for seniors.
Sense of purpose – When you know that your pet depends on you for food, exercise, and companionship, it gives you a good reason to get up and start your day. For someone who is elderly, taking care of their pet becomes a routine, and it helps give their day some structure.
Increased social interaction - Neighbours often become familiar with the dogs and owners out walking in the neighbourhood. For older adults, their dog offers a good opportunity to strike up a conversation. Pets are great conversation starters and help bridge the gap between people of all ages.
What to consider when picking a pet
When deciding on a pet for the person in your care, it’s important to consider the following about that person including their:
- Activity level
- Experience owning pets
- Financial situation
- Place of residence
Long term pet care
If the person in your care does have a pet, or you’ve decided to adopt a suitable pet together, it’s important to think about the future. You may need to be prepared to take on the responsibility of the pet one day. Or, ensure there are plans in place for the future care of the elder’s pet. Some people even make provisions for their pets in their wills.
Remember that adding a pet into an already busy life has the potential to add a lot of extra work.
Of course, it’s not always possible for you or the person in your care to provide care for a pet. This could be due to the cost or level of care involved, allergies, time commitments, or physical limitations.
Maybe looking for a more low-maintenance pet would be more appropriate. Cats, small birds, rabbits, or even small dogs can all be considered more low maintenance options.
Or, reach out to a friend who has a friendly pet and wouldn’t mind bringing over their pet for a visit with the person in your care. There are also therapy dogs that are trained to spend time in assisted living facilities.
Pets can be a lot of work, but for many elderly people the benefits of sharing their lives with pets are well worth it, both mentally and physically.
For more information on how you can be a volunteer for, or receive services, from our pet therapy program, Elizz Paws, please contact Catherine Ecker at CatherineEcker@sehc.com.