Do Seniors Benefit from Having Pets?


One of Bev Heyden's dogs perches in the middle of a fountain.

A growing body of research is revealing the psychological and physiological benefits that pet ownership confers on seniors in particular. "We know from studies that interacting with pets can have a direct influence on your health, from lowering your blood pressure and increasing levels of serotonin to helping you get more exercise," says Dr. Patricia McConnell, an animal behaviorist and the author of For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. "Well-managed pet therapy programs in nursing homes have been shown to reduce depression and even help mitigate the social withdrawal that is often associated with Alzheimer's disease."

Research has shown that companion animals can help to make significant changes, not only in a person's lifespan but in recovery. People tend to recover more quickly and more fully from illness when they have the company of a companion animal.

Pets will love a good human unconditionally and this can be very helpful in boosting one's self esteem, and increasing one's quality of life. Petting a dog or a cat can help you feel calmer and it can lower your heart rate. Studies have indicated that people with companion animals suffer less stress than others, and they tend to visit doctors less often.

Another of Bev's dogs prefers a
cushioned chair. 

It has been said that exercise is a miracle drug. It has also been said that, in order to live independently, you need to exercise. Is there any better way to get exercise than to take your dog for a walk? Exercise is good for your physical health; it can improve mental health as well. Keeping a dog can provide a source of comfort for many older adults and help them to become more active, grooming, feeding and playing with their pet.

Living alone isn't always easy, especially for those of us in our later years. Sometimes as people age, they become more withdrawn and solitary, losing both the desire and ability to develop new relationships. Not only do pets offer much needed companionship, but they can increase the quantity and the quality of social interactions among their human owners.

Seniors who are pet owners engage in more frequent conversations. Unlike their non-pet-owning peers, who may tend to dwell on the past, pet owners focus on current interests and activities that provide common ground with new acquaintances and increase the opportunity to build new social bonds. With a loving animal by your side, you are not alone.

But pets are not for everyone. Seniors living on a fixed income must be extra conscientious about planning for the additional costs associated with caring for a pet, including food, litter (for cats), vet bills, and medications.

Luckily, it isn't necessary for someone to take on the full responsibility of pet ownership to reap the physical and emotional benefits of interacting with an animal. Increasingly, senior facilities are turning to pet visitation from the Humane Society. Outreach programs like these give senior animal lovers the chance to interact with pets without the responsibility of providing full-time care.

To learn more about animal-assisted therapy for older adults, any local animal shelter will be more than glad to help you.

—Bev Heyden & Berta Seltzer, Aging and Disability Services Advisory Council

Animal Shelters and Rescues in
Seattle & King County

Animal Talk Rescue

Basset Rescue-WA

Best Little Rabbit, Rodent and Ferret House

Burien CARES

Cat Purebred Rescue

Homeward Pet

Humane Society of Seattle/King County

It's Meow or Never Animal Rescue

MEOW Cat Rescue


Puget Sound Greyhound Adoption

Regional Animal Services (King County)

Seattle Animal Shelter

Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue

New Rattitude Rat Terrier Rescue

The Alley Cat Project