The Benefits of Therapeutic Pets for Seniors

pet therapy for seniors

If you’re a pet person, it’s hard to explain why you love having a pet so much. They can be a bit of work to care for, so why do we do it? The answer is simple: because our pets make us feel good! We love having them around and we form deep emotional bonds with the animals in our lives.

Pet Therapy for Seniors

Pet therapy is often used in hospitals to lift the spirits of patients in recovery. Trained therapy dogs visit with patients for short periods of time, where patients are invited to pet the dogs and ask questions to the handlers. It’s quite amazing to see the emotional response people have when they meet these animals. Therapy dogs are often used to treat emotional and mental health issues as well.

This makes them a perfect fit for working with seniors. Pets tend to have a calming effect on us and can keep us happy and healthy. Let’s take a closer look at how pets can be a positive force in the lives of seniors.

Pets can reduce stress

When you have a pet, it gives you something to focus on, other than yourself. You can shift focus away from the things that might make you worried or upset, which is always a good thing. Having a pet also has some noticeable physiological effects as well. Being around a pet can increase the levels of serotonin in the body, which is known as the “feel good” hormone that keeps us happy.

The physical contact from petting or cuddling with a pet also helps to calm anxiety and can even lower blood pressure. This is especially great for seniors who might find themselves in a new living situation where they have some anxiety about socializing with new people or simply feel a bit lonely.

Pets can reduce feelings of loneliness

When they’re not used to spending time on their own, living alone can cause some seniors to feel isolated and lonely. Pets are ideal companions, as they keep you company and offer unconditional love and support. A pet can give a senior love, affection, and even be someone to talk to. While pets can’t carry on a conversation, many people enjoy talking to pets, as they feel the freedom to say things they might not feel comfortable bringing up with friends or family members.

Pets are great for a self-esteem boost

Some seniors feel like they’ve lost a sense of purpose. When they have a pet to take care of, it provides them with a way to feel productive and allows them to feel responsible. The daily tasks associated with pet care also create some structure in their day. When they know they have a pet counting on them for food, water, and exercise, they’ll be eager to get out of bed and get the day started.

Having a pet keeps you active

When you have a pet, there are few daily activities that you have to do each and every day. For example, when you own a dog (whether it’s big or small) you know you have to make time to take it out for a walk each and every day. Of course, you also know that you’ll need to take them outside for a few bathroom breaks as well. This provides built-in motivation for seniors to get up and get active, even if it’s just for a short stroll.

Even cats require a little bit of activity from us during the day. Whether it’s just getting up to feed them, changing over a litter box, or taking the time to play with them, it all counts! Any activity is good for the mind and the body.

Choosing the right pet

For seniors, it’s extra important to make sure you carefully consider a few things before you choose a pet. You don’t want your loved one to end up with a pet that requires more effort and care than they can give. Here are a few things you’ll want to think about before you bring a pet home:

What kind of activity level does the pet need? If your loved one has trouble mobility issues, a big dog who needs a lot of exercise probably isn’t the best choice. A smaller dog or a cat might be more suitable.

How much space does this pet need? Consider the living environment. Is there access to a yard for exercise? Does the building they live in allow pets? If so, are there restrictions on the type and size of animals allowed?

Is this pet easy to take care of? Even if your loved one is an experienced pet owner, they might not enjoy a pet who is a bit high maintenance. Instead of a high-energy puppy, they might prefer adopting an older dog who is already trained. Or perhaps an older cat who doesn’t run around as much.

Can they afford to have a pet? Pets can be expensive. There’s food, toys, and regular vet fees. Of course, there are often unexpected medical expenses that we don’t plan for. You’ll want to make sure everyone involved can afford to pay the monthly expenses associated with pet ownership.

Pet therapy at Bria Communities

At Bria Communities, we have seen firsthand the wonderful ways pets can enrich the lives of our residents. At Magnolia Gardens Complex Care, St. John’s Ambulance bring their pet therapy dogs Bella and Bo on a regular basis. The dogs are calm and friendly, and the residents get so much joy from interacting with them.

All our independent living communities are dog-friendly. Many residents have their own dogs (these furry friends tend to become minor celebrities among the residents), and often receive visits from dogs that come along with family members.