Virtually no one can keep from oohing and aahing over a puppy or a kitten. In fact all baby animals are attractive in their innocent appeal. But aside from the fact that pets are a lot of fun, they have been proven over and over to have a positive effect on their owners. This is especially true for seniors who may mourn the loss of their productive working years when they enjoyed a degree of status, and the loss of their children, who once relied on them, but are now grown and living elsewhere. Pets can fill in a vacant space in the lives of seniors.
Mentally: Pet owners are not alone and loneliness is one of the greatest enemies of good mental health. A dog or cat, or even a bird can offer companionship to a senior. There is another living creature to talk to and to laugh with. There is interaction. Another positive is that a pet requires care on a regular schedule and staying on a schedule is a plus for seniors who otherwise may feel as if all the hours in the day are the same. Taking care of a pet requires cognitive sharpness. The animal needs to be fed and watered and walked and groomed. Daily care of a pet requires mental awareness.
Emotionally: A pet invites healthy interactions. It is there to be loved and nurtured and it can’t take care of itself. It’s a bit like having a baby—but easier. Still, the care of a pet is a motivator for owners and has been shown to keep seniors more engaged emotionally. For those who have suffered losses of spouses, friends, children, the care of a pet is a chance to give to another, a chance to love again. It is a proven face that seniors suffering from depression are helped by caring for a pet. Having a pet in the home is often a way to reduce fears and anxieties as well.
Physically: Seniors are motivated physically to be more active when they own a pet. The actual care and feeding requires movement, and of course, a dog needs a daily walk. But apart from the obvious physical activity of caring for a pet, it has been shown in medical tests that pet owners have lower blood pressure and recover from illnesses sooner than those who do not. It would seem that having another creature to care for is a great motivator in staying well and able. Alzheimer’s patients may not be able to care for pets on their own, but they regularly respond to therapy animals in positive ways.
In short, if you are a senior living alone, you might want to think seriously about having a pet to care for and Ask Granny suggests it could be a very welcome Christmas gift! Small animals are usually the best for seniors as they require less physical exercise, eat smaller amounts and need less space. Some good choices for seniors are cocker spaniels, pugs, Pekingese, schnauzers and yorkies.