Pet Therapy

By Nora Heston Tarte

The Benefits of Animal Companionship for Seniors
Aging comes with challenges. Depending on home life and health it can be hard for seniors to continue living a full life. Loneliness creeps in as getting out of the house and participating in events and hobbies gets harder, and while some may think that having a pet is just more work and responsibility, there is actually a lot of evidence that points to the benefits of pet companionship for seniors. Want to put a smile on the face of a senior? Bring home a dog, cat, or other animal for them to spend time with.

It’s science.
As we age, our bodies develop more ailments. Elderly people are more likely to be on multiple medications and suffer symptoms of chronic illness. Having a pet can actually reverse some of the negative conditions that plague us.

Pet ownership has been linked to lower levels of stress, lower blood pressure, more social interaction, and an increased level of physical activity, all of which are positives for both mental and physical health. There have also been studies that have uncovered links between pet ownership and improved communication in dementia patients.

Social Behavior.
In a lot of ways, pets make seniors more social. There is a level of confidence and purpose that comes from having something or someone to care for. Then, when on walks, outings, or taking trips to the pet store for needed items, there is an opportunity to meet other pet owners and swap stories.

Pets can open the door for new connections during a time in life when finding new friends is hard. It can also give seniors the confidence to go out on their own (with their pet) and participate in events they may not have without a companion.

Mood boosters.
Aging can be lonely, especially if a spouse or friends have passed away or simply moved far away. A pet can replace this empty spot, and even relieve feelings of depression (something more than 6 million Americans over the age of 65 suffer). So why does having a pet help? The act of petting a fluffy dog is enough to trigger endorphins and relieve stress. Also, a pet can be someone to talk to or share your day with, which boosts mood on its own.

What Kind of Pet Should You Get?
Before picking up the cutest pooch from the pound, consider what pet would actually benefit someone most.

Consider ability. Someone who is older and has physical limitations may struggle with a large breed. Consider a small dog they can walk on a leash, pick up, and hold, or even a cat or smaller animal. It’s also often a good idea to choose an older pet, or at least not a puppy or a kitten that will require lots of training.

Consider personality. The temperament of the animal should be a good fit for your friend. If one doesn’t adapt well to change, it may be best to choose an animal that will only make small changes to daily routine. A dog, for example, will likely have a bigger impact and could upset the home life your friend enjoys.

Consider costs. Know the financial situation before bringing someone a pet. The added cost of pet food and vet care could cause stress for someone who is living on a tight budget.

Check out Animal Friends Connection Humane Society in Lodi for adoptable cats and dogs. 933 S. Cherokee Ln.

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