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benefits of pets for seniors

September 30, 2012

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The Health Benefits of Pets to the Aging

By Jackie Roberts, Guest Blog from 1800PetMeds

older relatives with pets

You may know friends or family who suffered empty nest syndrome after their children grew up and left home. They probably found other ways to keep busy, most likely with activities they didn't have time for while raising their kids. But as time goes on, and your relatives reach and then surpass retirement age, they may have to curb activities due to health reasons or physical limitations. When that happens, the loneliness and boredom can creep back in, eventually turning to depression. The situation can be worsened if a spouse or partner passes away, and the other is left living alone.

They probably aren't looking to give up their independence by moving in with children, or into an assisted living facility, and one way to help them combat the loneliness and improve their quality of life is for them to get a pet. A small dog or cat can add joy to a quiet home, and brighten their outlook more than a hobby ever could. Here are a few ways a pet can benefit the more senior members of your family.

cats can improve health of elderlyPetting a cat can lower your blood pressure, and that isn't the only benefit to adopting a pet. Think about encouraging one of your elderly friends or relatives to welcome a pet into their home.

Pets Encourage Better Self-Care

A common symptom of depression in anyone, particularly in the elderly, is ceasing to take care of common needs like bathing or eating. The individual may not see the point in doing those things, and may not have the energy for them anyway.

But having another living creature dependent on their care can motivate them to also take care of themselves. They can't let a pet go without food, so they will have to go to the grocery store. They can't keep a dog inside all the time, so they may be more apt to take walks.

A dog or cat may need pet meds, even just preventive ones, so your family members may better keep up with taking their own medications as well.

Pets Improve Owners' Health

In addition to depression, several other ailments and conditions have been shown to be improved by simply having a pet. Sitting and stroking a cat lowers blood pressure. Even people with poor cholesterol and triglyceride levels show improvement when they have one or more pets.

And another way pets can help decrease depression is by offering opportunities for social interaction. If your great uncles take his little dog to a dog park, he'll be able to meet other dog enthusiasts, and maybe even make new friends. Just one pet in the home can improve their health, possibly extending their lifespan as well.

In addition to your aging relations seeing benefits in having a pet, they can also help animals in need.

Shelter Pets Need Good Homes

A puppy or kitten may not be the best choice for your graying aunt and uncle. A young pet will be rambunctious and very active, will need a lot of attention and training, and will need to be housebroken. You want your relatives to have enjoyable companionship, not a situation that causes them a lot of cleanup work, or that can ruin their belongings when a puppy begins chewing, or a kitten sharpens its claws.

Consider instead suggesting they adopt an older pet from a shelter or rescue. One organization even subsidizes adoption fees for elderly adopters. Many of the cats and dogs in animal shelters are there because they were either abandoned or their owners could no longer care for them. Some pets end up there because their owners pass away, and there was no plan in place to care for the pet left behind.

In cases like these, the dogs are likely already trained and housebroken, and the cats already know how to use a litter box. Not only will this make the prospect of getting a pet easier on your family, they'll be providing a home to an animal that may otherwise spend months or even years in an animal shelter cage, or worse, may be euthanized. Your loved ones and their new pet could save each other.

As your friends relatives grow older, it's important to have that plan in place for their pet for when the inevitable eventually does happen. Whether their children adopt their pet after they're gone, or they have a plan in place to find a new, loving home for him, knowing their dog or cat will be cared for after they're gone will ease their minds, leaving them free to enjoy the time they have with their furry, four-legged friend.

Jackie is a writer for 1-800-PetMeds, and loves to help and support the pet community. You can find Pet Meds on YouTube or connect with Pet Meds on Facebook.

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