“There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face,”
– British Philosopher, Bernard Williams.
They melt our hearts and brighten our days, but would a pet be a smart choice for an elderly person who is struggling to take care of him or herself?
As we discuss below, studies from many research universities and even the U.S. National Institutes of Health reveal that pets increase the well-being of people of all ages. With the threat of isolation higher in the senior population, however, it makes sense that a pet would be particularly helpful. While pet ownership does bring mental and physical health benefits, care and expense can tax the elderly as well. When it comes to pets and seniors benefits should be weighed against risks. This post will help you decide whether the pros of senior pet ownership outweigh the cons for YOUR family.
Pros for Seniors Owing Pets
The research on senior pet ownership indicates that elderly people benefit from having furry friends around. These studies conclude that among the U.S. elderly, pet attachment is highly linked to strengthened emotional health, specifically the diminishing of depression and other signs of psychological distress. More findings include:
- Seniors with dogs go to the doctor less.
- For people aged 65-78, walking the dog becomes a neighborhood social opportunity. Conversations often begin with a discussion about the dog.
- Elderly pet owners with minimal human support but a strong attachment to their pet report less recent illness than isolated seniors without a pet.
- Senior pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
- Pet owners in general have fewer minor health problems, lower medical costs, better psychological well being, and higher one-year survival rates following coronary heart disease.
- Pets encourage playfulness, exercise, and promote laughter in all populations.
- Pets satisfy the human need for touch. They provide non-judgmental affection.
San Diego therapeutic massage practitioner and owner of Interactive Healing Karen Baskin, MA, HHP, NMT specializes in human and canine rehabilitation, neuromuscular therapy and biomechanics. In her work with what she calls “my yummy seniors” and others, she’s noticed that pets act as natural mood enhancers and companions for movement and exercise. “Pets are a pain distraction, too,” Baskin explains. “Their gentle breath even slows your heart rate. For seniors in particular, pets satisfy that need to be needed.”
Concerns about Pets and Seniors
Despite the clear benefits, if you’ve made it to this article, chances are you’re not completely convinced that you or an elderly loved one should have a pet. The responsibilities of pet ownership can be numerous and possibly overwhelming if medical issues are involved.
Aware of the specific challenges seniors have with acquiring pets, one group of enterprising animal lovers created the non-profit, Pets for Seniors. The organization rescues older pets destined for euthanasia from shelters for placement in the homes of the elderly. It supports the adopting seniors life long by guaranteeing to help with veterinary bills, transportation to the vet clinic and foster care should the owner need to spend an extended period in the hospital.
After surveying many seniors who had given up their pets, Pets for Seniors designed their program to meet their specific needs. The significant issues included:
- high veterinary bills and, for seniors no longer driving, transportation to and from the veterinarian with a pet becoming too cumbersome
- possible hospital or nursing home stays which could last weeks or months
- getting the pet out of the house in an emergency or getting the pet to a veterinarian if it became ill during the night or weekend
- arranging pet care due to illness
- difficulty in retrieving the pet should it run away
Keep these potential stressors in mind when considering acquiring a pet.
Alternatives to Owning a Pet for Animal-Loving Seniors
If you decide that a pet just wouldn’t work for your elderly mother or father or even yourself, these alternatives to owning a pet for San Diego seniors may scratch your itch for fur, feathers and pretty eyes.
- a backyard bird or butterfly garden. Local nurseries and botanical gardens have the flowers, birdfeeders, baths and more to attract local species. Buying your products there will guarantee you get a lesson in creating a rich bird or butterfly space.
- Trips with friends and family members to local dog park or beach. Seeing 20 happy dogs running and playing lifts anyone’s spirits. Zoo, animal shelter, aviaries or even a pet store can scratch the animal itch without tying anyone down to a major responsibility.
- Love 2 Live’s Thursday San Diego Senior Activities feature selects pet related activities suitable for seniors. We’re pet lovers, too! [Insert photo of Sheila & Oreo] We let you know about the big dog show up in Del Mar a few weeks ago and we’re excited for the opening of the Butterfly Festival in the brand new Butterfly Pavillion at the San Diego Water Conservation Garden on April 5. Make sure you always get our Thursday Things to Do in San Diego with Seniors feature by liking our Facebook page!
Select a Love 2 Live Senior Caregiver with a Penchant for Pets!
If you need or a senior loved one needs a senior caregiver with pet experience, please don’t hesitate to call us at 619-291-4663 or send an email here. A few walks, a ride to the veterinarian or some backyard arranging from one of our caregivers could make bringing a pet into your or a loved one’s home a reality.