Pets are easy companions, offering cuddles and helping their owners stay active and sociable. A place doesn’t quite feel like home without the companionship of a beloved pet. Often, they become just as much a part of the family as the human members of the family.
Let’s explore the overall benefits of pets, what you should consider when choosing a furry (or feathered or scaled!) companion, and which types of pets are the best pets for seniors.
Benefits of Pets for Seniors
Pets can contribute to the well-being of their owners in several ways.
1. Increased Activity
Many dogs require exercise, which helps owners get in exercise as well. Taking a dog outside for a walk will encourage you to stay active and keep your bones and muscles strong. Simply going for a 30-minute walk per day provides benefits such as weight management, increased muscle power, and reduced bone loss for those with osteoporosis.
2. Better Heart Health
Did you know that your furry companion can help your heart in several ways? In addition to increasing physical activity by requiring walks, which improves heart health on its own, pets are also incredibly calming.
According to research on pet owners compared to non-pet owners, people with a cat or dog had lower blood pressure and heart rate compared to those who didn’t have a pet. According to the same study, those with pets had smaller increases in their blood pressure and heart rate during times of stress.
Additional studies have found that pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels as well as a lower risk of death due to heart disease. Even watching fish swim in a tank has been shown to lower anxiety and blood pressure!
3. Decreased Loneliness
Pets provide unconditional love and may ease feelings of loneliness. Pets often understand what their owner needs and the emotions that they’re feeling. For example, dogs can detect emotions in people’s facial expressions and voices, and they can even smell changes in moods. As a result, they’re able to sniff out when their owner may need extra support or affection.
Pets also fulfill the human need for companionship and reduce feelings of isolation. By acting loyal, affectionate, and consistent, they can be valuable companions for seniors.
4. Reduced Stress
According to a 2022 study by the American Heart Association, 95 percent of pet owners surveyed stated that they relied on their pets for stress relief. Pets provide owners with a sense of belonging, contentment, and connection. For example, a cat’s purr can be soothing and make you feel loved, or a dog’s excitement when you get home can make you feel special. Stroking your companion’s soft coat can release oxytocin, which is a hormone associated with trust and love.
What to Consider When Choosing Companion Pets for Seniors
Beyond being a “cat person” or “dog person,” other factors should come into play when you’re choosing a pet. Consider the following:
- Does the pet fit into your lifestyle, needs, and caring abilities? For example, a cat may be more independent but still need regular attention, and a dog may require more active care such as going for daily walks.
- Can you dedicate the time required to keep your pet healthy and happy?
- Is the cost of the pet manageable?
- What size pet can your residence and physical ability accommodate? For example, it can be very difficult to have a St. Bernard dog in an apartment.
Consider adopting a pet from a local animal shelter. Approximately 6.5 million pets enter animal shelters each year in the United States. By adopting a pet from a shelter, you’re providing an animal with a good forever home while creating space for other incoming animals who need care at the shelter.
Think carefully about the age of the animal you want to adopt. Kittens and puppies are cute and are often adopted quickly, but they can be high-energy and require additional training. Adult cats and dogs are often already trained, but they’re frequently passed over for adoption.
Animal stereotypes can also prevent certain animal breeds or colors from being adopted. For example, black cats are frequently passed over for adoption because some people believe they’re bad luck, but they’re actually very friendly and loving cats—that’s good luck in our book! Additionally, studies have shown that the breed of dog doesn’t predict their personality, so think twice before you subscribe to the stereotype that pit bulls are all aggressive, and golden retrievers are all playful and affectionate.
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Best Pets for Seniors
Pets are a wonderful component of a strong support system for seniors. Beyond a pet’s activity level, temperament, size, and unique needs, also consider which type of pet is ideal for you personally. Here are some of the best types of pets for seniors.
Dogs are frequently chosen as companion pets because they’re loyal, friendly, affectionate, and playful. However, they also require physical exercise and care. When deciding what type of dog to adopt, consider the following:
- Grooming requirements
- Exercise requirements
- Level of attention they need and give in return
- Ease of training
For example, large retriever dogs such as labradors and goldens are great companion animals, but do you have the energy and endurance to keep up with these breeds? Yorkshire and Boston terriers don’t require much grooming, but Boston terriers often have a lot of energy for frequent walks while Yorkshire terriers don’t need much exercise. Pomerians, on the other hand, love attention and are energetic but don’t require much exercise, either.
Not sure which breed is an ideal match for you and your lifestyle? The American Kennel Club has a quiz that you can use as a starting point to explore what type of dog breed may be ideal.
Cats are the second-most adopted pets after dogs. They can be more independent, but they still need a warm lap to nap in and space to claim in their home.
Cats are more low-maintenance than dogs, in that they don’t require frequent walks. Additionally, if you have social engagements you want to attend, you can simply leave for the evening without being worried about how long you stay out and whether you need to rush home early to care for them.
If you’re adopting from a shelter, you often won’t find a specific breed of cat. However, if you do find a specific breed in a shelter or want to adopt a certain breed, there are some things to keep in mind:
- Ragdoll cats are laid-back and often get along with other cats, dogs, children, and new people. However, they do have a semi-long coat that requires daily brushing to avoid knotting.
- Russian blue cats are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and sweet temper. They’re also great for households with low activity and get along well with children, other cats, and dogs. However, they prefer to be close to one human companion.
- Persian cats get along well with other cats, dogs, and people, but they aren’t recommended for households with rambunctious young children. As they age, they may require extra veterinary care because they can be prone to health problems.
- British shorthairs are active as kittens but calmer as adults. They are friendly and affectionate, but they may not always be lap cats.
Fish are relaxing to care for and watch, and they’re also very low-maintenance pets. They often just need a bowl with marbles, gravel, or stones along the bottom and some interesting accessories to swim around in.
Fish care involves providing food daily and cleaning the tank weekly; however, some types of fish are a little messier than others and require more frequent cleanings. For example, betta fish are generally clean and require less frequent water changes while goldfish can be more messy and require more frequent cleaning.
Birds are generally low-maintenance compared to dogs, which makes them a good option for seniors. Their singing and chirping can be therapeutic to its owner. However, be sure to consider the noise level and whether these bird sounds will be bothersome to your neighbors if you’re living in an apartment or senior living community.
For example, female canaries are generally less vocal than male canaries, but cockatiels mimic sounds they hear around their environment, such as a ringing phone. Parakeets can be affectionate, but they require more attention outside of their cage, so this is important to keep in mind if you’re living in an apartment.
Pet-Friendly Senior Living for Animal Lovers
Moving to senior living should never mean having to give up a furry family member. If you’re considering independent living as part of your future plans, look for pet-friendly senior living communities such as Cedarhurst.
Learn more about Cedarhurst’s approach with our guide The Holistic Approach to Aging and Health with Senior Living.