How pets help keep seniors healthy


The millions of cute animal photos and videos on the internet are a testament to humankind’s adoration of our four-legged friends.  Most pet owners would agree that their pets bring them enormous joy and that they consider their pet a legitimate member of their family.


Another great aspect to pet ownership are the health benefits that come with it.  In 2008 the Humane Society of Canada wrote a report on the role pets play in reducing human health care costs.  The report cited a 1999 Australian study reported by Petnet Australia that compared pet owners to non-pet owners.

The study found that pet owners:

  • Typically visit the doctor less often and use less medication
  • On average, have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure
  • Recover more quickly from illness and surgery
  • Deal better with stressful situations
  • Less likely to report feeling lonely

Less anxiety

There are positive psychosocial effects as well.  The studies of Dr. Lynette Hart of the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine have shown that people experiencing Alzheimer’s have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home. Their caregivers also feel less burdened if there is a pet. More so if it the animal is a cat, which generally requires less care than a dog.

More mobility

For the elderly, pets can be a great source of comfort, joy and companionship. Walking a dog can provide exercise and can result in better mobility. A National Institutes of Health study looking at 2,500 adults aged 71-82 showed that adults who regularly walked their dogs had more mobility inside the house than non-pet owners.

Things to consider

The health benefits of owning a pet only impact those that really love animals and want to welcome a pet into their home.  Adopting a dog should not be seen as a remedy for all that ails us!  Pet ownership requires a lot of responsibility, which some seniors may not be able to manage.  Health concerns, expenses, interactions with neighbours all have to be considered before an elderly person adopts an animal, and experts recommend a good support system be in place.

There’s no denying that those who love their pets, do so deeply.  This important relationship shouldn’t change just because someone has made the move to a retirement community.  When researching senior housing options for yourself or a loved one, be sure to ask about the residence’s pet policy.   And if the responsibility of pet ownership is too burdensome, many residences have visiting pet programs.  All the joy of animal companionship- without the responsibility!


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