Why the Elderly Should Have Pets

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The elderly often face many difficulties associated with their age. For instance, they face an ever-growing loneliness from losing loved ones who move or pass away as well as health issues which may prevent them from leaving the house for social events. However, they can experience companionship and love if they own a pet.

Benefits of Pet Ownership

Research shows that owning a pet can improve one’s health in numerous ways. Animals can reduce stress, increase physical activity, lower blood pressure, and offer social interaction. Just playing with dogs has been proven to increase oxytocin and dopamine. Oxytocin plays a role in social bonding while dopamine is related to motivation and rewarding behavior.

For elderly patients that are capable of exercise, yet find difficulty getting motivated to move, a dog may be the perfect answer. They need daily exercise, and a senior citizen may find themselves more inclined to go out for a walk to visit a dog park if Fido wants to go. Even a small increase in movement can improve one’s health, lower blood sugar levels, and increase endorphins, which fight depression.

A pet-owner may also find themselves outside more often than someone who does not have a dog. Letting the dog out on a regular schedule can offer the elderly access to fresh air and sunshine that they may not otherwise get. Vitamin D, known as the sunshine vitamin, can help improve mood, among other benefits.

Owning a dog not only increases your opportunities to talk to others while out for a walk or at the park, but owning a pet – any pet – offers one the ability to share feelings and hold conversations that might not otherwise occur. Sadly, the elderly are often forgotten in families and in society. No one visits and they often find themselves alone. A pet gives them a friend who is always there, who is always willing to listen, and who provides love unconditionally.

Caring for a pet provides owners with a purpose and the feeling that they are both wanted and needed. Pet ownership boosts feelings of self-worth in the elderly. Taking care of a pet can require some serious effort, from daily walks to changing litter boxes to cleaning cages. However, when one puts his mind to it, he realizes that is capable of caring for another creature and doing it well.

In addition to all of these benefits, pets become not only friends to their owners, but often are considered to be part of the family.

Service Animals

Animals often become more than just pets. Dogs were initially trained as guides to help the visually impaired, but their service to the elderly has expanded way beyond this role. Service animals exist for a variety of mental and physical health conditions including:

  • Severe Allergy Alert Dogs: alerts handler of nearby life-threatening allergens, such as tree, nuts, gluten, or shellfish
  • Autism Assistance Dogs: calms patient through tactile or pressure stimulation
  • Mobility Support Dogs: braces a disabled individual as well as performing other daily tasks, such as opening and closing doors and retrieving items
  • Diabetic Alert Dogs: alerts handler of potentially deadly high or low blood sugar levels
  • Hearing Dogs: alerts deaf handler to specific sounds, such as cars, alarms, phones, and more
  • Medical Alert Dogs: notifies patient to specific health changes, such as variations in blood pressure, hormone levels, etc.
  • Medical Assistance Dogs: assists patient with a specific medical disability with tasks varying depending on the individual’s needs
  • Psychiatric Service Dogs: helps patient with needs based on a psychiatric disability like anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc.
  • Seizure Response Dogs: responds to seizures with trained tasks such as retrieving medication, contacting help, etc.
  • Visual Assistance Dogs: guides visually impaired patients
  • Wheelchair Assistance Dogs: assists with a variety of tasks needed for wheelchair-bound patient, such as opening and closing doors, retrieving items, etc.

In addition to these various types of service dogs, therapy dogs offer support and love to individuals who need it. The difference is that service dogs perform tasks for disabled individuals and are permitted in public places according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Best Dog Breeds For Seniors

While some senior citizens may be fully capable of keeping up with a lively puppy or an energetic breed, many suffer from health conditions which slow them down or prevent them from handling a large dog. Smaller breeds or even middle-aged or senior dogs are often a good choice for the elderly. Consider the following low-maintenance, relaxed, or small breeds:

  • Bichon Frise: This happy little dog is easy to train and requires minimal grooming with regular trips to a professional groomer. It is extremely friendly and require moderate daily exercise.
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel: This small breed loves to snuggle up with its owner. It is lightweight and easy to train, but does have some grooming needs, including brushing and cleaning its ears.
  • French Bulldog: This cheerful breed can be energetic and active, but lacks endurance. Expect moderate exercise needs and minimal grooming requirements.
  • Greyhound: While the greyhound has the reputation of being a racing dog, it is actually not a high-energy breed. They do need daily walks, like most breeds, and like a good run, they are really more of a relaxed breed that prefers to lounge on the couch with their owners. While greyhounds are larger in size, they are typically easy to handle as they train well and listen to commands.
  • Maltese: This little lap dog is easy to train and easy to handle, at only four to seven pounds when full-grown. It quickly attaches to its owner and likes short walks. It does require regular brushing and regular trips to the groomer.

Best Pets Other Than Dogs

While dogs make great companion pets for senior citizens, in some cases they may require a bit too much in the way of daily care, particularly with breeds which require grooming, are active, and are prone to health issues. There are other pets that provide the same benefits as dogs do, but without the extra responsibilities.

Cats

Cats offer the same loving affection and companionship as dogs; however, they are a much more independant pet option. Cats can be litter-box trained, clean themselves, and are more quiet than a dog. Short-haired breeds are the best option, as long-haired cats may need to be regularly brushed to prevent matting.

While the litter box will still need to be cleaned, that is much easier than taking a dog out to use the bathroom throughout the day (and night). Cats are great for apartments because they do not need to go outside at all.

Cats each have unique personalities, like to lie quietly with their owners, and enjoy being petted. They reward their owners with purring, by rubbing against them, and with other signs of affection.

Fish

While a large aquarium is not ideal for the elderly due to the amount of upkeep required, a small bowl or mini-aquarium is a great idea. When paired with a filter, most small tanks are easy to maintain, and freshwater fish are enjoyable to watch. Owning fish is believed to have numerous health benefits, including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and being good for Alzheimer patients.

Betta fish, for example, are solitary, don’t require much space, and with their long fins and colorful bodies, are relaxing to watch. Setup for any fish aquarium may be required initially, as many fish require special lighting and a filter, but after that, care is minimal, especially if an automated feeder is installed.

Leopard Gecko

Often overlooked as a pet for the elderly, reptiles like the leopard gecko make a great low-maintenance pet. Geckos are a great alternative to fish, as they are quiet and small, but do not require water changes to an aquarium like fish do. An initial setup of the enclosure is required to ensure that the habitat and lighting is correct, but geckos do not require daily feedings and live longer than fish do.

For a senior who wants more interaction, a bearded dragon is a good idea. It requires a larger enclosure and must be fed freshly prepared food each day. A leopard gecko, however, eats store-bought food, such as mealworms, waxworms, or crickets.

Reptiles like the gecko can be gently handled or simply admired through the glass of their aquarium for their unique colorations.

Insects or Spiders

Another alternative pet for seniors are insects or spiders. While many people are scared of bugs, others find them interesting. Make sure that the senior citizen actually wants this type of pet before purchasing the habitat, equipment, and creature.

Invertebrates such as spiders or insects are quiet, require little space, and are easy to care for. They eat other insects and are easy to feed. Like a gecko, they are a great alternative to fish, as there is no need to change aquarium water when maintaining a spider.

Reasons the Elderly Should Have Pets

The elderly can truly benefit from pet ownership for a number of reasons. As loneliness can be an issue for an aging individual, pets offer companionship that can help alleviate depression and physical ailments.

The responsibilities and routine that are associated with pet ownership do not need to be taxing. Pets can not only offer structure to an individual’s life, but also provide a purpose for a senior citizen who may otherwise feel as if she is no longer needed. They help the elderly to get outside, enjoy some exercise as they walk their dog around the block, and in the process, reduce stress.

Pet ownership is an investment in another creature’s life. It is a promise to care for and love another and a commitment to grow older together.

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