Companion Animals and the Role They Play with our Senior Citizens

  • by Caregiver Services, Inc.

It is said that a dog is man’s best friend and a cat has nine lives. However, ownership of a dog or a cat is never more poignant than it is with a senior citizen. The positives that can be gained from owning a dog are documented and valid. There are programs in place now that match up senior dogs with senior citizens, which in my opinion is a win-win for both dog and the senior.

Having participated in dog rescue since 2005 I am pleased to see new programs developed that merge my two loves, dogs and the care of the elderly. Millions of healthy and unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized yearly in our country and the lack of money and resources to properly control the overpopulation continues to plague us. When new funded rescue programs are created it gives us hope that someday things will change. One of the largest challenges in the rescue world is senior dogs and cats that are abandoned by their owners.

The Pets for the Elderly Foundation helps pay the fees to participating animal shelters throughout the United States for senior citizens (age 60 and over) who adopt a companion dog or cat from a participating shelter — including pre-adoption veterinary exams and spay/neuter, if part of the adoption fee.

Last year, the Pets for the Elderly Foundation assisted with the adoption of over 6,500 companion animals. Presently, 58 shelters in 30 states are participating in our program. Many more would like to participate, if funds were available.

The most serious disease for older persons is not cancer or heart disease - its loneliness. Pets offer affection; unconditional love, fights loneliness, and can help ease the loss of a loved one.” (www.petsfortheelderly.org)

The positive affects of Dog ownership according to Kristie Leong MD Roanoke VA. (eHow.com):

  1. A loving and affectionate dog can help an elderly person feel less isolated from the rest of the world. Plus, caring for a dog can mean daily walks which puts an elderly person in contact with the rest of the world.
  2. Geriatric researchers have shown that elderly dog owners were more likely to be active than non -pet owners. A dog benefits from a daily walk and this means that the elderly person must take that dog for the walk.
  3. Elderly persons who own a dog have a sense of purpose. When an elderly person doesn't have a family to care for, a dog can make them feel needed. The responsibilities of feeding and caring for a dog can give an elderly person a special sense of purpose.
  4. Elderly persons who own a dog have better mental health. Elderly persons who own a dog have a lower incidence of depression and, in general, have higher mental health scores than those without pets.
  5. Elderly persons who own a dog may experience health benefits. Dog ownership at all age levels has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. People who own dogs tend to have fewer sleep problems and complain of fewer medical symptoms.

Elderly people are particularly likely to benefit from the health-protective effects of cat ownership. Those with cats are less inclined to suffer heart attacks, their blood pressure is lower on average, they report less tension and stress, and they live longer overall. (Sep 15, 2008 - Jennifer Copley)

According to Joseph Schwerdt, Ft. Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel, 90% of seniors polled say they are less lonely and much happier since adopting an animal. The dogs can be of any age or breed, but most seniors like small, older dogs…those that won't be adopted by families with children.

Although I have discussed the many positives of Pet ownership it would be incomplete if I did not mention that some seniors prefer not to adopt a companion pet in case they become ill and cannot care for it at some point. It’s possible to have an alternative care provider to make arrangements for the pet’s care in case of infirmity or death. Seniors should specify who their pet should go to in their Will. This will assure the pet’s future is secure and they won’t be left alone and otherwise sent to a shelter. I can not stress this enough that if a senior does adopt a pet they MUST plan for that pet after their death as if it were a child. If proper planning is coordinated pet ownership and its health benefits can be an added piece of the health care continuum.

Posted in: Caregivers, Elderly Care, Home Healthcare

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