Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Pets can improve senior health and happiness


Many people have experienced the pure joy a pet can bring to their lives. However, have you ever considered the actual physical and emotional benefits pets can give our bodies? Studies have shown actual decreases in a person’s blood pressure and heart rate while petting an animal. Another has shown that people with pets remain more emotionally stable during a crisis.

These benefits can be especially helpful to seniors who may be homebound, lonely and sometimes depressed. Many retirement facilities have seen these benefits firsthand with their residents and have started pet programs where volunteers bring pets in on a regular basis for the seniors to interact with. The residents are happier and many times even show signs of health improvement.

If you or someone you know could benefit from a furry friend, it’s important to first make sure the responsibilities of owning a pet can be met. Pets need regular feeding, watering and exercise. Indoor cats also need their litter boxes cleaned and changed regularly. Dogs need regular walks outside if they don’t have adequate room to roam on their own. All pets need regular visits to a veterinarian so if the senior doesn’t drive, arrangements will need to be made for a friend, neighbor or relative to take them when needed.

If you or your friend is interested in a dog it’s a good idea to talk to a local veterinarian about a breed that will be a good match for the senior’s lifestyle. You might consider staying away from high energy dogs and instead focus on finding one that will be easier to take care of. After you have an idea of breeds to look for, the local humane society is a great place to start. Not only will they have a large mix of dogs, they will typically also have lots of cats if that’s your preference. Local breeders may also be an option if you don’t find what you’re looking for at the humane society.

A pet can be just what a senior needs to give them some daily interaction with another living being and create a buffer against isolation and depression. The act of caring for a pet gives seniors a sense of purpose as it requires them to get up in the morning and stick to a routine. Even small acts like brushing a cat’s teeth and getting up off the sofa to let the dog out helps the senior get some movement in their day. Taking a dog for a daily walk is also a great way for a senior to stay in good physical shape which is important for their longevity.

It’s hard not to smile when you pet a dog and see their tail wag or stroke a cat’s fur and hear them purr. The great thing is that now science shows us the benefits to pet ownership are more than skin deep. If you are considering a pet for yourself or for a senior friend or family member, talk to a veterinarian first for a recommendation. Then watch the senior and the pet reap the benefits.

Dr. Patrick L. Paradis is a veterinarian and the owner of Woodburn Pet Hospital. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..