October 3, 2018

If you’ve spent any time on social media over the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that at least half of it is now given over to adorable pictures and videos of cats and dogs.

You won’t find us complaining!

Pets are adorable and entertaining – and they can provide real benefits to many people, especially seniors living at home.

Interested in learning more about pet care for seniors? Are you on the fence about bringing a new furry companion into your home? Curious about the advantages, the risks, and what it takes for seniors to get started with a new pet? Well, we won’t leave you chasing your tail for much longer! Here’s what to know…

What Are the Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors?

So, why should your aging loved one consider a pet? Here are four major ways that caring for an animal can help benefit your senior:

  • Provide Companionship
    Studies show that having an animal around the house can help curb loneliness, a common problem for older people experiencing distance from their friends and family. In addition to having a lovable, playful creature around the house, pet ownership is also a great way to get involved with others. From getting involved at a local dog park, to joining a group of local pet owners, to meeting up with groomers and pet store owners, having a pet is a great way to be exposed to new interests and activities with people (and animals too!)
  • Encourage Movement and Activity
    Caring for an animal provides structure and routine, which can be a great benefit to many people as they age in place. Having daily goals and activities is a great way to stay mentally sharp. At the same time, having an animal – whether a dog, a cat, or something smaller, like a bird or guinea pig – encourages movement, from setting out meals for your pet, to taking the dog out for a walk, to playing fetch or other games.
  • Help With Safety and Security
    In addition to providing companionship, having a pet can also provide protection and security. For example, a barking dog can be a great deterrent to would-be intruders. Plus, trained service and therapy animals can help with an older person’s daily wellbeing. Some animals may even be trained to help with daily activities, or react and get help in the event of an emergency.
  • Generate Real Health Benefits
    In addition to providing social benefits, science suggests that connecting with an animal has direct, provable health benefits for older people. In fact, according to one study, brought to our attention by Aging In Place, “…just 15 minutes bonding with an animal sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone, cortisol, and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result: heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Over the long term, pet and human interactions can lower cholesterol levels, fight depression and may even help protect against heart disease and stroke.”

Is Owning a Pet Right for Everyone?

Owning a pet may have some major health and lifestyle benefits for seniors – but it’s also not without its risks. Having a pet around the house just isn’t the right fit for everybody, and it’s important to keep that in mind.

For instance, having a pet could come with some health risks. Managing an animal could lead to an increased risk of falls, or catching an illness – this is especially true for older adults with compromised immune systems. As Aging in Place points out, more than 86,000 people per year have to go to the emergency room because of incidents involving their dogs and cats.

At the same time, all of the positive social benefits of pet ownership also run the risk of backfiring. Many elderly people are prone to feelings of depression, loneliness, and isolation, and these could be compounded if something bad were to happen to their animal companion. Similarly, some older people won’t be up to the strict schedule and daily activity that a pet requires, which could lead to stress or exhaustion

Finally, bear in mind that caring for a pet properly is a financial commitment. From birds to canines, animals need food, shelter, vet appointments, toys and accessories, grooming care, and more. It can be expensive to own a pet, especially over time.

One way to help prevent some of the downsides of pet ownership for older people? Make sure your senior isn’t going it alone! This could mean stepping up  as a family caregiver, hiring animal specific help (such as a dog-walking service), or bringing in a professional companion service to assist your loved one. A professional caregiver can come in and check on things, help take care of housekeeping for seniors and their pets, assist with walks, running errands, and more. Above all, a companion will be able to make sure that senior and pet are both doing all right.They can keep their eyes open for warning signs of trouble, and let you know if caring for a pet seems to be too much work for your loved one.  

How Do You Find the Right Pet for Your Senior?

With all this in mind, it’s also important to remember that all people and animals are unique. The right pet for one person may not be the best fit for another. Matching the individual with the animal is key to keeping both happy and healthy in the long term. So, as you begin the process, what should you look out for? Consider:

  • Mobility or Functional Limitations
    Dogs can be a challenge, as they usually require a lot of exercise and play. Will your senior be able to keep up without help? For those with mobility or movement issues, you may want to consider lower impact animals, like cats or birds.
  • Personality
    Will a certain type of animal, or breed, be the right fit personality-wise? For example, high energy dog breeds may not be a great fit for a more laidback or slow moving senior. Before committing to an animal, research different breeds, and the personality characteristics of different types of animals. As you meet new potential pets, get to know each animal’s personality before bringing it home.
  • Experience
    Has your senior owned a pet before, or are they a novice? How many animals can they realistically handle? Are they up to training or house-breaking a new pet, or do they need a furry friend who has already been trained? These are all important questions to consider. You don’t want your loved one biting off more than they can chew.

How Can You Help Your Loved One Live Independently?

Having a pet may be one way to help someone you care about age in place independently, but it’s important to weigh whether it’s the right option for your loved one. If you have any questions about caring for the older adult in your life, don’t hesitate to reach out to Companions for Seniors! We’d be happy to be your sounding board, share our experiences, and talk over any questions or concerns you may have about any aspect of caregiving for your aging loved ones.

If you have a loved one that you believe could benefit from the assistance of a professional caregiver, please don’t hesitate to reach out to one of the professionals at Companions for Seniors.

Our companions are trained, bonded insured, and can help your family shoulder some of the burden of caring for an aging loved one. We help provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for a family caregiver who might need some support. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active and enriched lifestyle.

Have any questions about Companions for Seniors? Want to get in touch? Don’t hesitate to give us a call, or fill out our contact form available here.