Seniors and the Benefits of Pet Therapy

It's often been said that a dog is a man's best friend.

And why not? Pets in general, are very loyal, love unconditionally, and are great protectors. Pets can be very therapeutic. So it only makes sense that science backs up the claim that pet therapy is a real thing, and that it works. So what is pet therapy? Pet therapy is a guided interaction between a person and a trained animal. It is often used to help someone recover from or cope with a health problem or mental disorder.

Pet Therapy is commonly used with seniors. Studies have shown that as little as 15 minutes of interaction with an animal can elicit a chemical chain reaction in the brain that lowers levels of cortisol (the fight or flight hormone), while increasing levels of serotonin (the feel-good hormone). Over an extended period of time, contact with an animal or pet may also benefit a senior in the following ways:
  • Lower levels of cholesterol
  • Help fight depression and anxiety
  • Protect against cardiovascular disease and strokes
  • Improved appetite
  • Likeliness to socially interact
  • Improved cognitive function and stimulate memory
  • Enhanced mood/behavior
  • Increased physical exertion
  • Decreased loneliness
Pet therapy can largely impact the physical, social, and mental well-being of and elderly individual. Pets can make seniors feel needed, which converts into a greater sense of purpose and self-worth.

If you or your loved one are contemplating getting a pet, consider the following: Finances: Many seniors are on a fixed income and may not be able to provide all the necessary accommodations for a pet. Type of Pet: Some pets require more work than others, so it’s important to analyze your loved one’s situation to determine if they could meet all of the requirements. While a dog or cat may be a good choice for some, a fish or a bird may be more accommodating for those with mobility issues. It’s also wise to select an animal with good temperament.

While many may assume a younger animal would provide more longevity, you may want to consider an older animal. Older animals are often already house-trained, more calm, and eager to have the constant love and affection of a retired individual.

Capability of the Senior: Many seniors suffer from dementia or some other form of memory loss. Forgetting to feed a pet can place the animal in harm. However, if your loved one has someone to assist in remembering to do these actions, a pet may still be a viable option. In addition, it may be wise to consider if your loved one has ever owned a pet before. Caring for a pet can be overwhelming and challenging for someone who has never done it before. Future Care of the Senior: While it’s impossible to foretell what the future holds for anyone, looking ahead and planning for all options is necessary. Is your loved one deteriorating fast, and may need to be placed in an assisted living center? If so, look for places that allow animals for their residents.


Even if your loved one cannot be a pet owner, he or she can still experience the benefits of pet therapy. Pet Therapy programs can be found through the Department of Human Resources, doctors, nursing homes, health departments, or even pet stores. At Aegis HomeCare and Hospice, we recognize the tremendous benefits that pet therapy offers to seniors which is why we offer pet therapy to our patients and residents in private homes, group homes, or our long-term care facilities. Contact us today to see how we can arrange pet therapy for your loved one.