Pet ownership is a wonderful way to improve older adults’ physical, emotional, and social wellbeing. Companionship is crucial for people of all ages, but it’s especially important for seniors, whose social circles often shrink over time. Depending on the type of animal you have, pet ownership encourages you to leave the house more frequently, increasing the chance of meeting other people.
Loneliness and social isolation in older adults are serious public health risks affecting a significant number of people in the United States and putting them at risk for dementia and other serious medical conditions.
A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) points out that nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.1 Older adults are at increased risk for loneliness and social isolation because they are more likely to face factors such as living alone, the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and hearing loss. A survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute found that 80 percent of pet owners said their pets made them feel less lonely.
Benefits to Owning a Pet
While there is no question aging can make it more difficult to maintain personal relationships, there has never been a better time to bring a new pet into your household. Not only are there more pets than ever needing good homes, experts say that being around pets has many health benefits. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America has reported that pets and therapy animals can assist in alleviating anxiety, depression, and stress, as well as feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
1. Pets reduce stress: simply patting a pet has been proven to reduce your blood pressure and also helps you to relax and practice mindfulness.
2. Pets provide companionship: by being affectionate, loyal, and consistent, pets reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
3. Pets fulfil the human touch need: touch is a basic human need which pets can fulfil. Patting a pet has also been proven to lower your heart rate.
4. Pets keep you in a routine: pets can give you a sense of motivation by providing regular feeding, exercise, and cleaning.
5. Pets provide a sense of purpose: taking care of, and being responsible for, a pet can provide you with a sense of purpose, which can help to reduce depression and anxiety.
6. Pets increase your social interaction: while this point is not an option at the moment with COVID-19 restrictions, things will return to normal at some point and your new companion can provide you with opportunities for better social interactions.
7. Pets improve your fitness: pets need regular exercise, which encourages you to move more. This, in turn, improves your general health and wellbeing.
Pets to Consider
Cats make wonderful companions for senior citizens who don't necessarily have the strength or energy to take a dog on a walk but still want a companion. Short-haired cats make great pet options for many seniors. They are typically very independent, clean themselves, and are quieter than a dog. Long-haired cats will require a bit more work since they may need to be brushed or groomed. However, any cat is still a good option for a senior.
Cats have unique personalities, make some noises for the person who doesn't want complete silence at home, and don't require a yard or a walk to use the bathroom.
Generally, dogs are such great companions but they do require some work. They need to be walked, they need to be bathed and, of course, fed and loved. Some may need medical attention. But one thing is for sure – most dogs are very loving, faithful, and protective of their human parents. You can decide whether small dogs or larger dogs would be a better fit for you and your home.
If you're not a cat or a dog person or don't have too much space to take care of one, a guinea pig may be the pet for you. Guinea pigs are one of the easiest pets to take care of. In fact, they only require a small space in your place to call their home.
Caring for a guinea pig only involves completing a few simple tasks that will keep them happy and healthy. The main ones are feeding and grooming them, playing with them, and cleaning out their hutch. Unlike a dog, you won't need to take them for a walk, so they're perfect for seniors with mobility issues.
A small freshwater aquarium is easy to set up, and with a good filter and the right water chemistry balance, it's easy to maintain as well. Fish are the ultimate easy-care pet, and their colors and movement are calming to watch.
Deck out your tank with hiding places and faux plants to create interest for your fish, and choose compatible species so you'll have a peaceful underwater kingdom. Daily feeding, weekly water testing, and monthly gravel vacuuming are the main responsibilities of fish owners.
Birds can be fantastic pets for the elderly. Some species require very little hands-on care aside from feeding, watering, and switching out the paper in their cages. Canaries and finches are lovely little birds that prefer not to be handled, so they're great for adding lively sound and movement to the environment. Parrots tend to be louder and more demanding, but many enjoy physical contact with owners.
Help with Costs
The Pets for the Elderly Foundation helps pay the fees to participating animal shelters throughout the United States for senior citizens (age 60 and over) who adopt a companion dog or cat from a participating shelter – including pre-adoption veterinary exams and spay/neuter, if part of the adoption fee.
In 2020, PFE announced that its program would also include funding for shelter programs that cover veterinary services, retention services, food shortage support, and other services for animal adopters aged 60 and over.
That PFE funding is implemented through a certified PFE partner shelter and includes routine veterinary care, surgery, food, home visits and grooming.
Check out their website for additional information.