Health and Wellness |

Eight Ways Pets Can Improve An Ageing Persons Life

September 26, 2019
photo of a man and his pet dog sitting outside

Pets play an important role in the lives of many people throughout the world, and there is a growing body of research indicating a positive relationship between pet ownership and human health and wellbeing. For the elderly, a curled-up cat, a tail-wagging dog, a chirping bird or even a serene goldfish may be especially impactful, given how common loneliness and social isolation are within this age group.

Pets help older adults cope with health issues, get active and connect with others. First published in a Poll on Healthy Ageing¹ where researchers surveyed around 2000 adults from the age of 50 to 80, 55% said they owned at least one pet. Dogs were the most common pet, followed by cats and small animals, such as birds. But no matter the type of animal, the vast majority of owners said their pets boosted their mental and physical health.

Nearly 90% of older pet owners said their animals helped them enjoy life and feel loved; roughly 80% said their pets reduced stress; and almost three-quarters said their furry friends provided a sense of purpose, according to the poll. Sixty percent also said their pets helped them cope with physical and emotional health issues.

Below are 8 ways pets can improve an ageing person’s life²:

Aid Recovery

Many studies have been carried out to show that animals can have a significant impact on emotional wellbeing. This in itself can lead to a quicker physical recovery, perhaps following a fall, an operation, or infection. Research shows that there is a mutual interaction of oxytocin release for both an owner and their pet through touch, smell, and sound. Oxytocin has a powerful physiological effect. It lowers the heart rate and blood pressure leading to reduced levels of stress. In some cases, petting an animal has even been shown to be more effective than common anti-hypertension drugs. Research also indicates that owning an animal could even extend your life. If you have an animal you are much less likely to have a heart attack and if you have a heart attack you are three to four times more likely to survive it than if you don’t have an animal.

Fight Loneliness

Elderly people may have moved from their home to a care facility, they may be far away from their family and friends, or may even have lost a loved one. It’s therefore understandable that many elderly people find themselves feeling lonely from time to time. However, with their unconditional love, animals can be a huge help in combatting loneliness.

Lift Spirits

Pets are kind of like your personal therapist. As well as elderly people feeling lonely, there are lots of difficult changes to come to terms with. They may have aches or pains, may not be able to do things they once did, may have lost those dear to them or may even be considering the next stages of their own life. As a result, elderly people may feel unhappy, or even depressed.

Depression can have lots of negative effects on a person’s health. It can lead to inactivity and even refusal to eat.

Owning a pet can give elderly people a renewed sense of purpose. It’s a reason for them to get up and look after themselves, as they now have someone relying on them, to provide food, water, love, and attention. Animals seem to almost have healing powers when it comes to making you feel a little bit human again.

Furry, Hairy, Feathery Teachers

Pets teach us many lessons, including responsibility and compassion. They can also show us how to live in the moment, how to play, and how to love openly and fully. Ultimately these lessons help us to be better people.

Improve Sociability

Some elderly people may struggle to communicate with others or find being around lots of other people overwhelming. Animals can serve as a catalyst for human friendships, since they often get caretakers out in the community.

In a recent journal The Pet Factor³ it was found that pets can precipitate more than just incidental contact or casual conversations with strangers. For instance, in a previously published study undertaken in Perth, Western Australia, 40.5% of pet owners reported getting to know people in their suburb as a result of their pet. Knowing people within the local community can be an important antidote to isolation and social disconnectedness, regardless of whether or not it deepens into friendships.

Pets are also magnets for adventures, big and small. Simply going to your local cafe or park can be exciting and is an opportunity to socialise. Even ‘stay at home’ pets can help your social life. Having a pet is a great ice-breaker and who doesn’t love looking at animal photos!

Offer Security

For elderly people who find themselves living alone, it can be unsettling, especially at night. Elderly people can often feel vulnerable, even though their home may be physically secure. A pet, whether it’s a cat, dog or even a budgerigar, can sometimes provide an extra sense of security as they will no longer feel alone.

Aid Mobility

As people get older, special therapy dogs can be a significant help, particularly around the home. For those with limited mobility, dogs can help them collect objects, or walk with those who have limited visibility. Another way therapy dogs can help the elderly is in an emergency, such as a fall. A trained dog may be able to retrieve the telephone or get help quickly in other ways.

How and Where to Find the Right Pet?

While breeders are a good source, adopting from shelters such as RSPCA is usually much less expensive and comes with the added benefits of giving an unwanted animal a home and possibly saving it from euthanasia. Shelter employees often know each animal’s personality well and can assist in making a good match. Some shelters even offer reduced adoption fees for older pets and adopters age 55 and up.

Online pet shopping is also possible which allows potential owners to search for their perfect pet. However, it’s still recommended to meet a potential pet in person to more accurately gauge the fit.

That one animal is going to experience all the love you can give, and it will give it back times a hundred.



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