Pets and Senior Citizens

Pets Help the Elderly Live Longer, Healthier and Happier Lives

Elderly couple holds dogs

There’s no disputing animals have always had a positive impact on their owners’ lives.

Now, evidence suggests four-legged friends are a real health benefit for elderly people, helping them live longer, healthier and happier lives.

Pets Encourage Seniors to Stay Active

The general care associated with a pet can help seniors live more energetic lives. As any pet owner knows, animals need attention and keep us active — whether we want to be or not. Pets help seniors establish routines and get them to do things they might not normally do, such as getting outside and walking their dog or changing their cat’s litter box, feeding, grooming or playing with their pet.

Helen Kapral, a retired school teacher in Corona Del Mar, Calif., says her dog, Muffin, enjoys being outside, which helps her get out. “I take Muffin for walks around the neighborhood all the time,” she says. “She joins me on my daily walks to Starbucks, walks with me down to the beach and has even helped me meet new people.”

Pets Make Great Companions for Seniors

Pets can give an elderly person a great sense of self and help increase self-esteem since pets need and rely on their owners for virtually every aspect of their caretaking. Seniors also benefit from the unconditional love and affection their pets give them.

Just the very presence of a pet provides camaraderie to seniors, helping them realize they are not alone. Additionally, having a pet — especially a dog — can give seniors a great sense of safety just by the barking which can keep unwanted visitors away.

Pets Help Our Hearts

Studies show that older pet-owning citizens have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-owners, helping to reduce their risk for heart disease and decrease their number of visits to the doctor. Additionally, a number of other studies suggest that pet owners have a better chance for long-term survival after surviving a coronary event than non-pet owners.


Studies show that older pet-owning citizens have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-owners, helping to reduce their risk for heart disease.

Pets Help the Elderly Overcome Depression and Loneliness

Standard poodle receives a treat from an older woman

According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, caring for a cat or dog helps elderly people overcome depression or loneliness. Whether that be from the loss of a loved one, not having family or friends nearby to interact with, or not being able to get out much, having a fluffy friend gives older citizens a sense of purpose since they have to take care of their pet and think about things other than their own problems.

Even for elderly patients in nursing homes, animal-assisted therapy has shown to help patients decrease their anxiety levels and give them something to look forward to.

Christina Miller, a former convalescent home activities director in Southport, N.C., says she witnessed the positive impact animals had on elderly patients when a local animal shelter made weekly visits to her facility. “Residents who normally weren’t active were suddenly getting up, petting and talking to the cats and dogs, smiling and interacting,” she says. “Patients would ask me, ‘Are the dogs here? Did they come yet?’ Half the patients had better reactions to the dogs and cats than they did to people.”

The positive impact animals have on people — especially the elderly — is tremendous. So much so that there are organizations such as the Pets for the Elderly Foundation, a non-profit organization, that specifically places dogs and cats into the homes of senior citizens, helping them overcome loneliness.

Overall, pets have a positive effect on their senior companions, and benefit health-wise from their very presence.


If you liked this article, you may enjoy reading more about pets and people and how pets and people battle obesity together.


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