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Pet Companionship for Older People

Elderly man with his dog

Pet Companionship for Older People

Loneliness is a very difficult thing to endure for many elderly people living on their own, as long hours go by without any companionship to enjoy. Family members might be able to visit weekly, or a couple of times a week, but there’s bound to be evenings when an older people yearns for some company.

Even if their sons and daughters can’t visit daily because they’re raising families of their own, older people can derive wonderful companionship through owning or adopting a pet. Having a friendly dog or cat by their side every day could be mutually beneficial, with both person and animal embracing each other’s company.

This post helps older people to decide which pets are best suited to them, explains why pet companionship can be so rewarding and outlines important considerations to remember when choosing a pet.

Ideal pets for older people

Not all animals make ideal pets for older people, especially those who require a great deal of care. If you’re thinking of getting a pet for an elderly relative, here’s a few suggestions worth considering:

1. Small or gentle dogs: Some dog breeds are not suitable for older people, but smaller, gentle breeds like fox terriers, chihuahuas or poodles can provide friendly companionship and are well suited to elderly owners. However, regardless of what dog breed an older person adopts, it’s vital that they obtain daily exercise.

2. Cats: Most domestic cats are serene creatures who can adapt easily to living in a house and are playful by nature. It’s often advised to provide plenty of playful distractions for any felines in your home and to take the time to play with them. This will help owner and animal to bond even closer.

3. Birds: Domestic birds like budgies and canaries make for brilliantly responsive pets, with budgies even being able to interact vocally with their owners with a little training. They’re very easy to care for and tend to show their owners a lot of appreciation.

4. Fish: While fish in an aquarium tank might not provide as intimate a companionship as a dog or cat, the sight of them gliding gracefully through the water is wonderfully relaxing and pacifying. Also, setting up their tank and moving things around in it is a fun, creative activity which seniors might enjoy, while it is very cost-effective to maintain in comparison to caring for other pets.

This video lists 10 dog breeds that would make ideal pets for older people, explaining why each one is well suited to elderly companionship.

Benefits of pet companionship for older people

Owning a pet can bring a series of benefits for older people:
1. Pet companionship helps older people to feel less isolated, not only within their home but also by incentivising the older person to take the pet for walks and maintain contact with other people.

2. Also, by going for daily walks with their pets, older people are more likely to be physically active, making them healthier overall.

3. Taking responsibility for a pet is likely to give an older person a renewed sense of purpose and increase their mental sharpness, as they will be regularly alert to the welfare of the pet.

4. Older people who care for pets are less likely to suffer from depression and loneliness.

Indeed, a series of studies and statistics revealed just how beneficial pet ownership can be to an older person.

1. There is a link between animal companionship and higher coronary disease survival rates. In a study of people who had suffered a heart attack, the mortality rate of people with pets was 3% lower than that of people who didn’t have animal companionship. (Pet Information Bureau)

2. People who live with pets were found to have lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides and lower cholesterol. (Pet Information Bureau)

3. People with pets are 21% less likely to require a visit to their doctor than those without. They are also less likely to require medicine and more likely to recover faster than people without pet companionship. (Medicare)

4. In Australia, the annual healthcare spend of people without pets is $790 million to $1.5 billion lower than that of people without pet companionship. (The Lake Veterinary Hospitals)

5. A study by Pets Are Wonderful Support showed that recently-widowed women who owned pets experienced far fewer physical and psychological difficulties and used less medication than widows who did not own pets.
Elderly lady with her dog

What to consider before getting a pet

Although pets can provide wonderful companionship for older people, the pet should be an ideal match for the person who intends to care for it. Here are the main factors to consider before selecting a pet for an older person.

1. Not all dogs/cats etc. are the same: While some breeds of dog or types of cat might be generally well suited to older people, as outlined earlier in this piece, no two pets are exactly the same. It helps to get a feel for a pet’s personality, energy levels and expected level of maintenance before making a final decision.

2. How well does the pet complement the person: Would an elderly relative prefer an energetic pet to accompany them on daily walks or a sedate animal which would relax with them on the couch? Also, a patient, caring person wants their pet to be the same, so it’s important that any pets they have can interact well not just with the owner, but also any visitors to the owner’s home.

3. The pet’s age: Tying in with the previous point, an older person who is unable to remain active would most likely prefer a pet in the senior stages of its life, as this pet would probably be more conducive to a relaxed lifestyle than a young, vibrant animal.

4. Costs of caring for the pet: Many older people live on limited incomes, so if they are thinking of caring for a pet, it’s vital to choose one with an affordable responsibility. Aside from the cost of purchasing the animal, there will be recurring costs such as veterinary check-ups and appointments, food, grooming and essential medical treatment.

5. The pet’s medical considerations: Find out about the medication and treatment that an animal is likely to need before adopting it as a pet, as it could require frequent veterinary care which could be expensive. Also, make a list of medications that the pet will need and keep this somewhere that’s readily accessible.

Alternatives to pet ownership

Some senior citizens might love to adopt a pet but could lack the physical stamina or financial wherewithal to take full ownership of an animal. In such cases, there are several other ways in which elderly people can interact with animals.

1. Animal shelters and rescue groups would always welcome volunteers to help care for domesticated animals, with mutually beneficial companionship between human and animal.

2. Some of these could run foster schemes which allow for volunteers to bring animals home and care for them in the short-term. This would enable older people to care for pets without needing to worry about financial pressure.

3. A lot of elderly care centres arrange pet therapy programmes which involve activities with therapy animals, and some of these organisations might also offer home visits.

4. For older people living with dementia, a toy dog or cat can provide sensory stimulation and companionship without any of the responsibility that owning a pet involves.

This video shows how toy animals can act as a fun and comforting alternative if an older person is unable to care for a real-life pet.