Pet therapy series

How a Pet Can Benefit the Senior You Love

Maybe you’ve thought about getting your aging loved one a pet for companionship but thought twice about it. After all, pets require some work, and they’re known for some pesky behaviors such as clawing the corner of the couch or chewing your favorite pair of slippers. But maybe it’s time to revisit the idea of a pet for your loved one. Here are three important ways a pet can enrich your senior’s life and even improve his or her physical and mental health.

1. Pets give meaning and purpose to life. Some seniors, especially those with limited mobility, may find that their life lacks the meaning and purpose it had when they were raising children and enjoying a career and a richer social life. Being responsible for a pet can give them a sense of purpose, and it can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

2. Pets reduce stress. A large body of research shows that pets reduce stress and increase feelings of wellbeing. Petting a cat or dog reduces blood pressure and lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The Centers for Disease Control points out that having a pet can also reduce your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

3. Pets promote physical activity and social interaction. Even a lazy cat can promote more physical activity, since it requires feeding and maintaining the litter box. But a dog can really get your loved one off the couch and outside for regular potty breaks and a daily walk. Pets also promote social interaction: The daily walk often finds pet owners comparing notes and animal lovers stopping to give Fido some snuggles.

Choosing the Right Pet is Important
While a cat or dog could be just the thing to lift your loved one’s spirits, promote exercise, and reduce stress, properly matching the pet to the person is crucial. Choosing between a cat and dog is largely a matter of preference, but it’s also important to consider the level of care your loved one is capable of providing.

If you’re considering a dog, look at breeds whose energy level matches your loved one’s ability to exercise it. Also consider breeds that don’t shed or bark too much. If you’re thinking about a cat, you’ll probably want it de-clawed, which means it will need to be an indoor cat. A small cat or dog would probably be ideal.

Why not make a day of it? Head to the local animal shelter with your loved one to pick out the perfect companion. Stop by the pet store for accoutrements on the way home, and sit back and watch your loved one fall in love.