Pets are not just cute and cuddly creatures. They are sometimes known to be quite the little miracle workers, too. While there are many known health benefits to spending time with dogs and cats, the impact of pet ownership for seniors goes even further.
- Pets offer the prospect of a relationship with individuals who are too often starved for companionship. One of the hardest things about getting older is losing the people who have shaped and touched our lives in meaningful ways. Entering new relationships with humans is often difficult, but pets have a way of breaking through our defenses and connecting with us, even when we’d rather shut down.
- They won’t judge you when you’re having an “off” day or complain about their stressful lives. This is not to say pets aren’t needy. Many dogs and cats need exercise, but healthy seniors can easily take the dog for a walk or play a round of fetch. The beauty of pet ownership is the unconditional love they offer.
- They listen and provide support without psychoanalytics, and they offer comfort through the basis sense of touch. Everyone needs a listening ear sometimes, but many seniors keep too much to themselves. Whether this is out of fear that others will minimize their problems or swing completely the other direction and overreact, supplementing human listeners with comforting animals is known to relieve stress.
- Pets can give seniors a sense of purpose, which is especially helpful when one’s usefulness is other areas of life is thrown into question. Self-esteem is a vital part of mental health and wellness. Having someone else to take care of gives us a sense of duty. When we are responsible to others, we belong not only to ourselves anymore. Having obligations gives us purpose in life, which translates into better self-esteem. At its best, pet ownership can affect geriatric depression.
- Dogs especially are known for their innate ability to show concern for their humans. The lives of many seniors can be filled with concerned people, but humans aren’t always adept at showing it in palatable ways. When pets show their concern, the feeling is more genuine, and often less threatening.
- Many dogs and even some cats can alert their owners when medical or environmental emergencies are imminent. While having a pet is not the same thing as using an assistance animal, many animals require no training at all to be tuned into the warning signs most humans can’t sense.