As of 2022, nearly 70 percent of American households own a pet, whether that’s a cat, dog, or other animal. Despite this, seniors are far less likely to own a pet. Often, people assume that the challenges presented by aging make it impossible to safely and properly care for an animal; however, for those with the necessary mobility, owning a pet can enrich their lives.
While many see pets as a burden for seniors, countless studies show they can improve the lives of older adults in many ways.
It’s natural for people’s schedules to “slow down” as they age, especially for retirees, making it harder to maintain a productive daily routine. And while unstructured days may not sound like such a bad thing, they can quickly lead to boredom, which can lead to earlier deaths.
Pets, who require daily feeding and walking, as well as other maintenance, can help encourage a more regular routine. Dogs, in particular, will likely provide a physical reminder each morning that they need to go out, and who doesn’t appreciate a doggy wake-up call?
As well as encouraging routines, certain pets, such as dogs, require daily walks from their owners. Studies show that dog ownership is associated with increased exercise and better health in seniors. Because a dog tends to match its owner’s pace, walking your pet can provide easy, safe, and effective cardio that helps build an emotional bond between pet and owner. Studies also show that seniors who walk a dog regularly are able to walk longer distances and at faster speeds.
Even if an older adult has regular visits from friends and family, pets provide an intimate affection that’s particularly helpful for those who live alone. A survey from Home Instead finds that pets can help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness. This same study finds that interacting with animals, such as petting a cat or watching a bird, can drastically brighten a person’s mood.
There’s a reason people say that dogs are man’s best friend, and we’d argue that just about any animal can be as well.
Anecdotally, just about anyone who owns an animal can tell you how their pet reduces their stress, and there is science to back up this claim. One study found that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors who had pets were less likely to report feeling isolated, stressed, or lonely. More recent studies suggest that ownership is not always necessary and that the introduction of animal-assisted interactions could be even more widely beneficial for seniors.
The natural weakening of our bodies and subsequent discomfort can make many people feel vulnerable in old age. Service animals like dogs can be trained to physically protect their owners and homes, as well provide affection and companionship. Simply having someone around can also provide an extra sense of physical and mental safety.
Even if they can’t talk, pets are intelligent and emotional, just like us. As a result, there is extra satisfaction in taking care of an animal. If, for example, you or your loved one miss the fulfillment of raising children, a pet can be a salve. Having a living thing relying on you can revive a sense of self-worth and encourage self-care in the long run; a recent study found two-thirds of pet owners credit their pet with keeping them physically active.
Many seniors who may want a pet are discouraged by the high cost and amount of paperwork associated with adoption. Luckily, there are many groups and people working to help older adults find the animal companionship they need. Organizations such as Pets for the Elderly (PFE) not only help provide seniors with pets for low costs, but they also adopt from and donate to non-kill shelters. PFE partner shelters help provide seniors with low-cost veterinary services and easy adoption.