As we age, it’s easy to feel disconnected, lonely, and not very centered. The elderly may have gotten used to a life where work and children defined everyday tasks, and retirement and empty nest syndrome may be difficult to contend with. Whether you are a senior yourself or if you’re worried about a loved one, owning a pet like a loving canine companion could help rectify these issues.
Health Benefits of Dogs for Seniors
There were studies conducted that showed dogs can provide an emotional and psychological benefit to the young, old, and everyone in between. For example, a pet can give the elderly a life purpose, and the reason to get up at a specific time every day. In order to find the right fit, you have to assess the lifestyle of the seniors and match them with a good breed.
We’re going to take a look at the benefits a furry friend can provide for elderly pet owners.
Dogs Reduce Loneliness
Having a companion in the home is enough for some to reduce the feelings of loneliness, and pet ownership is an excellent way to fulfill this need. Research has also shown that petting animals can release dopamine – the “happy hormone”. Aside from having a friend at home, pet ownership may also increase a senior citizen’s social circle.
Most dog owners we know talk to their pets, and elderly people often just need someone to talk to – even if it is just their pets. Owning a pet keeps seniors in the here and now, and dogs are reliable companions that will always have time for the elderly whether it’s for hugs, spending time together on the couch, or going for walks. The dog will likely become a treasured member of the family.
Most younger generations will have domestic responsibilities and work, which won’t leave much time to visit their elderly parents or grandparents. Yes, a weekend trip or day out is nice, but a dog will be there when they cannot. In a sense, dogs also provide health benefits for all members of the family by taking some of the emotional stress from worrying about the seniors feeling alone.
Dogs Keep Seniors Moving
Dogs also pose a great benefit to a senior citizen’s physical health. Dog walking, even around the neighborhood once a day, will lead to fewer doctor visits, better weight maintenance, meeting daily exercise needs for the elderly, and many other benefits.
Seniors shouldn’t engage in high-impact sports, and walking is one of the most recommended forms of exercise that doesn’t cause extra strain and no equipment is needed. A sedentary lifestyle, no matter at what age, can lead to many health issues. Pet owners typically get more exercise than those who do not have pets. So, for older adults who own pets, their physical condition may also improve.
As we mentioned, owning a pet can give older adults purpose. When senior owners retire and their children move out of the home, it’s easy to lose a sense of purpose in life. Dogs need their owner as much as owners need their pets. It’s a healthy codependent relationship that yields many benefits. Without meaning to, dogs can become a senior’s emotional support animal.
Giving an elderly citizen a reason to get out of bed, make sure the dog is healthy and happy is almost like bringing another child back into his or her life. The care and love older adults give to their pets can also release dopamine and strengthen the bond between pet owner and pet.
Dogs Can be Service and Therapy Animals to Seniors
Dogs can be the difference between living and thriving in a person’s older years. It’s no secret that our bodies are more likely to fail us as we get older, but dogs can help improve our quality of life when that happens. People in poor physical health can benefit from pet therapy. For example, a dog can be ears for the deaf, eyes for the blind, voice for the mute, and even help wheelchair-bound seniors get around.
A dog’s purpose transcends what many people initially imagined. They have earned the title of “man’s best friend” over centuries of working alongside mankind whether it’s during hunting season, pulling sleds for transport, or simply lending an ear when we need a friend.
Keep in mind that for a dog to be certified as a service or therapy dog, he will need to go through rigorous tests and training to satisfy the criteria.
Dogs Just Get You
They lend an ear whenever senior citizens and other pet owners need a confidante but did you know that their understanding of our emotions goes much deeper than that? MRI scans have shown that a dog’s brain responds to emotions very similar to how ours does. For example, laughter will make dogs feel happy, and they feel our sadness when we cry. This also applies to our expressions as well.
Dogs can distinguish the difference between a crying face and a smiling one. Yes, dogs can “read our emotions” as well as empathize with us, which is why pet ownership is said to be therapeutic, because hey, they get us.
As per owners, you know, and we’re pretty sure most of them will attest to this fact. Think about pet therapy for the elderly, who need someone to just understand them much of the time.
They Make You Healthier
They make you happier, which, in turn, can also make you healthier internally. Dogs have been shown to reduce cholesterol in pet owners and also lower blood pressure. If you have a happy and healthy pup at home, all family members including seniors will benefit from fewer chances of cardiovascular diseases.
Mind over matter; a person’s mindset will impact their bodily health. Feeling happy and healthy usually leads to a healthier life.
Dogs Improve Sociability
Dogs can bring people together. Family, friends, and other fellow pet owners tend to want to meet the new puppy and strike up a conversation. Seniors will experience a more bustling social life and interact with people they may not otherwise meet.
Seniors walking their dogs on the street may meet strangers that want to say hi, and then chat for a while, which then leads to doggy playdates and more. Dogs are excellent icebreakers, ask anyone!
They Can Be the Best Friend You’ve Never Had
Even if they don’t improve a senior’s social circle, there is a very big chance the dog will become an indispensable part of an older adult’s life. The elderly may soon come to rely on the dog for more than just belly rubs that release dopamine. Seniors may experience assuredness and even feel safer with the presence of a dog. The dog will soon become the best friend seniors have.
They Organize Your Day
This aspect is such a positive side effect of having dogs. Without focus in one’s life, it can be tough to keep to a set schedule. This leads to an unstructured life that could lead to depression and boredom. Dogs thrive on a set routinely they need to feed, walk, and play during the day. In order to satisfy this, older owners will need to organize their days around the dog.
What Type of Dog is Best?
As we mentioned before, not every pet is suitable for elderly owners. For example, you wouldn’t want to give a rambunctious large breed dog to a senior citizen because they won’t be able to handle the energy levels or satisfy the dog’s needs in terms of exercise. How do you choose the best breed? Follow our tips below.
We have a few questions you can ask yourself before getting a dog for yourself or your senior family member.
Is the senior resistant to change?
It’s no secret that getting a new dog will require significant changes in a person’s schedule, and this includes seniors. In the beginning stages, if you decide to bring a young puppy home, it will be a lot like bringing home a new baby. The puppy will cry during the night, need some sort of potty training, and needs constant supervision to make sure he doesn’t ingest or get into anything dangerous.
If the senior in question is very set in his or her ways, then it will be very mentally and emotionally tough to accept the necessary changes. It doesn’t matter what type of pet you get, pet ownership requires time, patience, effort, and consistency. Is the senior up to the task and does he or she have the time and ability to get the dog through the puppy stage?
The puppy stage is the most difficult and can last for months. Late-night potty breaks and very high energy levels are unavoidable, and some very old pet owners may not be able to handle it. You can still get a dog if this is the case, but maybe not a puppy.
Are they new to dogs?
Has the older adult had a dog before? If yes, then it’s more likely that they will be experienced and know what to expect and what’s expected of them. If not, it’s still possible to get a canine companion with the aid of a family member who can be there to help out whenever needed until the senior gets the hang of things.
Does the senior suffer from any disability?
If the senior in question suffers from a physical limitation, then you may need to get an experienced service dog or opt for a different type of pet because dogs require a lot of exercise. Seniors can still benefit from pet therapy from other pets. We recommend birds, cats, or even small animals such as hamsters and fish.
Does the elderly adult need a certified therapy or service dog?
As we said, some elderly citizens may need certified therapy or service dogs to really experience improved health benefits and improve their quality of life. This is recommended for infirm individuals and these dogs can help them get around and maneuver everyday activities.
What age would be the best fit?
Regardless of what age, you must try to get a healthy dog for the senior. You would want the senior citizen to benefit from the dog instead of having to rush back and forth to the vet to monitor the pet’s health. As we said, those who do not have the physical ability to handle a puppy should get an older dog.
Some opt to rescue a shelter dog, but it’s important to keep in mind that these dogs may have emotional trauma which makes them aggressive. Of course, this can be trained and their trust can be gained, but it’s not a suitable task for a senior, especially one who’s inexperienced. If this is the case, we suggest going for a stable older dog.
There are dogs very suited for a more relaxed lifestyle, such as ones who are recommended to be therapy dogs such as Golden Retrievers, King Charles Spaniels, and Poodles. Large, stubborn, and energetic breeds such as the Husky may not be the best choice.
In general, a smaller dog will require less exercise, so older seniors may find them to be the best choice.
What size and temperament would best suit the senior?
Puppies take a lot of work, any pet owner will know. Generally, larger breeds take much more effort, but the exact size will depend on the senior’s mobility. If they live a very active lifestyle and have no problem handling medium-sized dogs, then the breed options will increase.
No matter what, a pup with a good temperament will be a better choice for seniors. One that’s not too stubborn, intelligent and learns quickly, happy and friendly without any sort of aggression would be the best.
Does the senior need financial assistance?
Dogs require a couple to a few hundred dollars a month to raise. The variance depends on how old the dog is, the breed, and the health condition, and the food alone for a dog can be $800 and over a month. If no one can help the senior with costs, then maybe a lower-maintenance pet such as fish is a more suitable choice.
Do you have a plan B for the dog?
Let’s say you have your eye on a dog that passes all the important criteria, you should still think about a backup plan for the dog just in case owning a pet is incompatible with the senior. You don’t want to have to surrender a pet to the shelter because of this, so having someone who is willing to take over just in case anything happens is a good idea.
Quick List of the Best Dog Breeds for Seniors
Here is a quick checklist of large and small breed dogs that have suitable temperaments for seniors.
- Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
- Pembroke Welsh Corgi
- Bichon Frise
- French Bulldog
- Shih Tzu
- West Highland White Terrier
- Labrador and Golden Retrievers
- Bernese Mountain Dog
- Afghan Hound
- Great Dane
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I get a dog at 60?
Yes, you should get a dog at 60 if your circumstances and finances permit it. Dogs provide numerous health benefits both physically and emotionally for humans. A dog will become a treasured companion and part of the family, being your confidante in the absence of others. The key is to get the right dog.
Dogs known to have stable temperaments that are easy to train such as poodles, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, Malteses, and Pembroke Welsh Corgis are examples of suitable breeds.
What are the potential benefits of older adults being pet owners?
Some potential benefits of older adults being pet owners include reduced stress levels, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, increased social interactions, and more physical activity. These are mainly physical benefits, but there are also mental and emotional benefits such as companionship, happiness, and reducing the sense of loneliness among the elderly.
Why do elderly with pets live longer?
Older adults with dogs live longer because a fur baby’s companionship leads to healthy aging. Pets can positively influence a senior’s life in different ways. For example, the elderly will be more motivated to exercise and go for walks. Having a constant companion will also reduce feelings of loneliness and depression, all of which can lead to longer and healthier lives. The same is true about owning dogs at any age.
Are pet owners healthier than non-pet owners?
In general, yes. Pet owners tend to be healthier than non-pet owners because they have a higher possibility of fitting exercise into their daily routines. Petting your dog also releases dopamine, the happy chemical, which leads to enhanced emotions. A positive attitude and mindset affect our physical health, which is another reason why pet owners tend to be healthier. Of course, this is a generalization, and there are plenty of happy and healthy non-pet owners out there.
Owning a pet will provide senior citizens with numerous health benefits. Aside from adding even more purpose into their lives, owning a dog also makes them happier. Next time you see your elderly family member with their new dog, chances are you’ll notice a much brighter smile and a happier attitude. Dogs are man’s best friend for many reasons, one of which is to enrich our lives at any age.