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The Importance of Pets for Seniors

Updated on July 2, 2017

The Importance of Pets for Seniors

My important pet Zoe and her pet bunny
My important pet Zoe and her pet bunny

The Importance of Pets or "Companion Animals" for Seniors

Pets are humanizing. They remind us we have an obligation and responsibility to preserve and nurture and care for all life. ~James Cromwell

Pets are significant in the lives of everyone, I believe, but have a particular role to play with seniors-- boomers and beyond. Pets can actually improve the health of their caregivers, bring new purpose and meaning into one's life, and serve a nurturing and socializing function.  More than anything, pets make great companions in our lives!

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How Pets Came to be Important

Pets-- or "companion animals" as they would like to be known these days-- have come up through the centuries with mankind. There is a consensus that dogs were domesticated (from wolves) almost as long ago as this planet was created. It is likely that 'useful' animals (such as dogs who herd the sheep) became 'pets' because they spent so much time with their caregivers and endeared themselves with their loyalty and desire to please. Pets are given space in one's home and heart as opposed to wild animals. Pets-- or companion animals-- have a different value than livestock, lab animals, working or sport animals which are usually raised merely for economic reasons.

Greyfriar's Bobby-- for DVD and Kindle

Greyfriar's Bobby

One of my favourite movies as a child was "Greyfriar's Bobby", the story of an old Scot and his faithful little pet dog who wanted to live on the old fellow's grave after he'd died. The movie illustrated how bonded these two were.  Companion animals are just that-- companionable.  They don't question their caregiver's grammar, hygiene, status in life, or educational background.  As long as they are fed and given some attention, your companion animal will give you his or her heart for life.  

Dog Helps Elderly Man Speak Again

Pets are Important to the Aging Population

Pets are Always There To Love Us No Matter What

Pets are important to children, of course, but they take on more importance as we age. Like the old shepherd Jock, Bobby's 'master' in the movie, we grow frail and forgetful over time. We may suffer from unresolved trauma and hurt. A pet can help us to overcome some of this loss and pain just in its unconditionally loving presence. Take a look at the video about "the Mutt Ministry" (including cats) in Alabama. Pets from a shelter are matched with lonely elderly and taken into nursing homes where the residents feel happy when they see the little furbabies.

The Health Benefits of Seniors Having a Pet

Get A Dog!

If you are a recently retired boomer or have just lost your spouse or significant other you might be at odds, grieving, depressed, not wanting to talk to anyone about your feelings. Pets are excellent during a time of transition. They make such great companions-- you can be with them, and as it says in the video to the right, "it's like talking about the weather only a lot more interesting". Imagine!

Pets can actually increase the survival rate of cardiac patients (the contact), lower and help you cope better with stress, reduce bone loss, lower cholesterol (!?), improve blood circulation and help you stay active and healthy. They rely on you to take care of them and in turn, meeting their needs, keeps you healthy!

Different Dog Breeds-- All Cute!

The Importance of Your Pet to Your Social Life

I joke that the importance of our pet lies in her having opened up a whole new social life for us introverts (my hubby and me). We live in pretty much a "Grey Hair Ghetto"-- a nice neighborhood but the average age is probably 65. Almost everyone has a dog (and some have cats as well). Taking walks with our dog Zoe is a social occasion. We have gotten to know people by who their dogs are. We know the dogs almost as well as we know the people. Sometimes we remember the dog's name but not his or her caretaker's. We have enjoyed a lot of fun times and learned a lot from other dog caretakers and from the dogs' interactions. Never underestimate the pet's ability to bring more playfulness into your life, either! And laughter and fun keeps one young!


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    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 4 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Thank you for your comments Peggy-- I think we pet people are the 'birds of a feather' of the old saw... most people of our age with dogs have as many 'my-dog' stories as they do 'my-grandchild' stories. Not sure what that says about our generation?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 4 months ago from Houston, Texas

      We love our "buddies" both dogs and cats. Right now we have just one of both and they are both getting older. I smiled when I read your last paragraph. When we had several dogs and would walk them, we also knew other pet names and not necessarily their owners. (Smile)

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 19 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Dear folks... I'm sad to report that we just recently said goodbye to our own little pet of the past decade. So many people have been attaching "Get Another Dog" or "Get a Puppy" to their sincere condolences, but my husband and I feel nowhere near ready to "replace" the Baby of our Twilight Years. We fully expect to see her come bounding to us when we get to Heaven.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 21 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Dear Roberta

      Thank you for dropping by and offering your perspective. I agree that if one decides to gift an elderly family member with a pet it is important to determine before-hand if the party is capable of, and responsible enough to care for a pet. Another consideration is whether they even like animals. I appreciate your contribution. Cheers! ~Cynthia

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 21 months ago from the short journey

      These are great considerations for generally improving the life of the elderly, though it is crucial to know whether the person will take care of the pet.

      I just recently heard an interesting story. Someone asked a policeman what the best security system would be. He replied, "Get a dog." Seniors who find themselves living alone for the first time in years might find them to have valuable security benefits.

      LOVE the opening quote from James Cromwell!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 21 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      MsDora, nice to see you here! I agree that pets-- or at least in my limited experience-- seem to have an amazing ability to be empathetic on a level one would like to experience more with humans!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 21 months ago from The Caribbean

      Pet therapy pops up in recommendations as companions for seniors in many of the articles on aging. They seem to understand pain and grief. Thanks for helping to increase awareness of these benefits.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 21 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      moonlake, thank you so much for sharing your testimony of how your little dog made a healing difference in your life! I am sure someone will read this and identify with your situation and get some pet therapy! God bless! ~Cynthia

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 21 months ago from America

      Get A Dog! You're so right I don't know what I would have done without my little dog. I would have never moved from the sofa. He kept me going I had to feed him and take him for many walks each day. He helped me get out of the house.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 21 months ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Besarien, I'd have to return the compliment-- I do not think I have ever had such a well-written and encouraging response to any of my writing before. Thank you! I will certainly be over to review what you have recently posted! ~Cynthia

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 21 months ago

      The study of pet therapy is in its infancy but we have long known that pets are the best of companions- trustworthy, protective, and so giving of their pure love. They will love us to the end of time whether or not we are young, beautiful, charming, or intelligent. I think every household, capable of seeing to a pet's basic needs, should have one. Otherwise, there are too many pets in need of loving homes and too many lonely people in need of a true friend. Wonderful hub, techygran!

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 3 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      ah, Joy-- I hope you can accommodate a dog in your life-- if you can, you will not be sorry, ever! Thanks for reading and commenting!

    • Joy56 profile image

      Joy56 3 years ago

      I need a dog.. Even more so after reading this

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      bodylevive-- I hear ya! It's the unconditonal part of the relationship that is really really hard to beat, isn't it? Furbabies are totally unjudging about what kind of housekeeper you are, what your hygiene is, what you look like, or what your status is in the community... not too many human relationships can claim anything like that!

    • bodylevive profile image

      BODYLEVIVE 5 years ago from Alabama, USA

      I enjoyed your hub. I'm a dog lover and I have two spoiled rotten children. They give unconditional love and they will always be there when you need them.

    • techygran profile image

      Cynthia 5 years ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

      Thank you Peter for your endorsement... you kind words are much valued!

    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 5 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear techygran,

      Thank you for an interesting and well written article. Some people seem to underestimate the healing power of a pet, be it a goldfish, cat or dog. They give you unconditional love and most importantly a reason to get up in the morning. (Well I may be stretching it a bit with a goldfish !) voted up, useful and interesting.

      Kind regards Peter