Are there Health Benefits to Pet Ownership?

October 6, 2014

Most of us with elderly parents have struggled at some point with feelings of guilt or worry about not being able to visit enough, or the simply thought of mom or dad living alone and isolated. One approach worth considering is possibly introducing a pet into their living environment! With proper consideration and planning, offering them a pet can relieve your stress, and – more importantly – offer tangible health benefits to your elderly loved one.

Multiple studies suggest that, when a senior is up to the responsibility, having a pet can not only keep them more active, but also can lower their risk of depression, loneliness, high blood pressure, and even unnecessary visits to the doctor! A key aspect here is to openly and honestly assess how much care is involved, layered against the physical and emotional capability of the potential caregiver.

Here are the most important considerations to keep in mind:

Your loved one’s

  • physical capability: can your mom meet the physical demands of walking a dog, for example? Some breeds require more exercise than others – have you consulted with a vet about what breeds would be low-maintenance companions? If daily walks aren’t an option, then what about cat ownership? Particularly if allergy isn’t an issue, cats can provide low-maintenance but cozy companionship for an elderly person who’s able to keep up with food schedules and litter box maintenance.
  • temperament: Like children, pets require a bit of flexibility in terms of daily routine; while they might not need rides to friends’ houses (!) they still have physical needs that sometimes require immediate attention. They’ll also age, of course, which brings with it its own set of issues. So you’ll want to make an honest assessment of your loved one’s capability to adapt to these demands before committing to anything permanent – or at least have a Plan B should they not be able to meet such challenges themselves.
  • financial capability: Caring for a pet costs money! Aside from the cost of food, there are vet appointments to consider, as well as shots, neutering, equipment (leashes, beds, waste collection bags, food dishes, cages) – and, unless you invest in pet insurance, it’s all out-of-pocket. So do your homework and make sure potential costs wouldn’t pose a burden.

Provided these requirements are reasonably met, there are few things more rewarding and comforting – particularly for someone living alone – than sharing a home with a loving pet. Domesticated animals are bred to please and to provide companionship – qualities that could be a great answer to our elderly parents’ worlds getting a little smaller and potentially more isolated.

Here are more excellent resources to help you explore this option and make the right decision:
http://www.agingcare.com/Articles/benefits-of-elderly-owning-pets-113294.htm
http://www.petsfortheelderly.org/articles.html
http://www.aspca.org/
http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist/dog-behavior/exercise-dogs