The Health Benefits of Pets for the Elderly

What do we do to keep ourselves healthy?  Hopefully, we exercise, eat right and take vitamins – all good examples of what we need in order to attain a healthy lifestyle.

What if something is missing to truly enhance our well-being?  This is not something that you may expect, but owning a pet could in fact improve your mental and physical state, especially in the elderly.

Many studies have shown that seniors with pets can reduce the use of anti-depressants, increase physical routine, decrease the risk of heart disease and improve behaviors in individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.

These studies don’t just refer to our furry friends, but a study at Purdue University observed a group of seniors with Alzheimer’s disease who showed a vast improvement in behavior and eating habits after four weeks of exposure to an aquarium filled with vibrantly colored fish.  “If this were a drug, it would be marketed tomorrow,” says Roger Lavelle, Vet. M.B., Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s Veterinary Clinical Centre.

Furthermore, The Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, conducted a three-year case study of almost 6,000 individuals.  Out of this group, about 800 of them reported to owning one pet or more.

As pet owners, they showed to have lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels compared to the non-pet owners present in the study. “Studies like these have contributed to our understanding of the influence of human and animal interaction and health and development,” says Layla Espisito, PhD, Health Scientist Administrator at the National Institute of Health.

Owning a pet as a senior can prevent the feeling of isolation and loneliness. From personal experience working with seniors years ago, my community had a dog that belonged to one of our residents. The dog eventually passed and shortly after, our resident drastically declined.

Even though the resident had a family who visited him often, he lost his companion and felt a major void in his daily life and routine. Most of the residents who had daily interaction with the dog demonstrated a change in their behavior until the Chef started bringing his dog to work with him every day.  The residents loved having this gentle pet around, and it simply made them happier.

One can own a dog, a cat, a hamster, or even fish, and no matter what, pet ownership has positive effects on the physical and mental well-being in elderly.

If a senior is incapable of owning a pet, another alternative is having a therapy dog, which will visit hospitals and homes with certified handlers.

~ Nicole Brierty,