There is nothing quite like waking up to a kiss from a four-legged friend or watching their tail wag as you come back in from checking the mail.
Pets love us unconditionally. Having an animal around may reduce stress, lower blood pressure and combat feelings of isolation especially for seniors.
People with pets may be happier and have better mental health. According to a 2016 survey by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, this effect may be even more apparent among seniors. The survey reports that 83% of baby boomers said their mental health improved after they got a pet, compared to millennials amongst whom a 62% improvement was reported.
In addition to the mental health improvements, dog owners are more likely to be active, have a lower body mass index and need fewer doctor visits, according to a 2017 study in The Gerontologist. The study also suggested that greater bonds were formed between dogs and owners who took shorter leisurely walks over those who walked solely for distance. So, even seniors who have less energy for long walks still may benefit from pet ownership.
There are things to take into consideration before getting a new pet.
Seniors with limited mobility may be better suited as cat owners, for example. Dog breed is another factor to consider. While some breeds like Jack Russell terriers are small, they have a lot of energy that may be overwhelming for a senior and can lead to destructive behavior. Puppies and kittens may also not be the best option as often times they require time and training that older pets do not need.
Checking out a local animal shelter is one of the best ways to find a pet that fits with an individual's needs. The people at the shelter will often be familiar with an animal's temperament and will be able to suggest the right pet. Shelters are also a good way to get older pets adopted, and many have discounts for seniors looking to adopt. The Shelter Pet Project and Pet Finder are two online resources for finding shelter pets in your area.
When considering a new pet, it is always important to take their future into consideration. Setting up a plan for who will watch the pet if their owner has to go to the hospital or into a long-term care facility or even if they pass away is important.
For seniors who feel open to having an animal in their home, pet ownership can be a great option.