Did you know that research has indicated that older adults who also are pet owners benefit from the bonds they form with their companions? It’s true: finding a furry, feathered, fishy, or even scaly friend can help a senior live a longer, happier, more fulfilling life.
Pet ownership help seniors in several ways. First, it may provide direct health benefits by encouraging physical activity.
Getting up and getting active.
Dogs, for example, need to be walked. A 2016 study, co-authored by researchers at the University of Missouri and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and published in the peer-reviewed journal The Gerontologist, found that dog-walking was associated with positive physical health factors, such as a lower body mass index, fewer limitations on the activities of daily living, fewer doctor visits, more frequent and more vigorous exercise.
"Dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise."
But dog-walking certainly isn’t the only physical activity to be derived from pet ownership. Bending down to pet or pick up your dog or cat, getting up to feed your pet, going to the store to get pet supplies, bathing your dog, changing a cat’s litter box, cleaning a bird’s cage or fish’s tank — these are all necessary tasks for seniors who own pets.
And not all the benefits are derived from chores, either. Seniors can get exercise by playing with their pets. Playing fetch with your pooch, hiding and seeking with your cat, or tossing a Frisbee for your dog in the park can gently raise your heart rate, help you to burn calories and build lean muscle, and have a lot of fun besides!
The emotional and mental health benefits of pet ownership.
Many seniors — especially those who have lost a spouse, or whose children live far away — report feeling loneliness. A pet can provide much-needed companionship and unconditional love for an older person.
Having a pet to care for can provide an older person with a positive focus point and a renewed sense of purpose. A pet is someone to care for, to provide for, and it provides love in return. Even if it’s something like a fish, or a tarantula, and not furry or huggable, it’s something to watch, and to watch over.
And, of course, those animals that are huggable provide physical familiarity that is often otherwise missing for seniors who live alone. Scientists know well that cuddling, petting, or even gazing at an animal friend causes the release of oxytocin — the so-called “bonding hormone” — which lowers blood pressure and decreases negative feelings.
Interactions with pets may even help to stimulate and promote healthy brain activity. Penny Donnenfeld, a New York psychologist, reportedly brings her retriever mix, Sandee, to her office. She told AgingCare that she has observed interactions with the dog trigger her older patients’ memories.
"I've seen those with memory loss interact and access memories from long ago," she said. "Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging."
Indeed, having a pet nearby can help to ease an older person’s natural fears of approaching death and the unknown. As the actor Jimmy Stewart once projected, in a poetic elegy to his late dog, Beau:
And there were nights when I'd feel his stare
And I'd wake up and he'd be sitting there
And I reach out my hand and stroke his hair.
And sometimes I'd feel him sigh
And I think I know the reason why.
He would wake up at night
And he would have this fear
Of the dark, of life, of lots of things,
And he'd be glad to have me near.
Adopt a Shelter Pet
If you’re a senior in Cincinnati, there are plenty of local shelters and animal rescue organizations where you could find a new friend to spend your golden years with. And you’ll be helping the animal, too, by providing it with a loving, attentive home after it’s been lost, abandoned, or orphaned.
Older and special needs animals, which often go unadopted, could especially benefit from your love — and benefit you in return.
Here are just a few of the many Tristate shelters you might search for a new companion. Click the links, where available, to see their animal adoption pages:
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals operates 2 shelters in our area. One is located in Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood. The other is in Sharonville. You can find dogs, cats, and even small animal companions.
Your county’s animal shelter or Humane Society shelter.
Many county shelters in our region are simultaneously under-resourced and inundated with residents — especially in rural areas, where unwanted pets from the city or suburbs are often dumped off and abandoned. As a result, most are forced to euthanize unclaimed, unadopted animals. You could save a life by starting your search here!
This no-kill, all-animals shelter in Batavia is a fantastic place to find your new best friend! If you have an interest in helping an older or special needs animal, check out the League’s None Left Behind program, which features waived adoption fees and assistance with any veterinary needs pertaining specifically to pre-existing conditions.
This no-kill, cats-only rescue and discounted spay / neuter organization is in Madisonville, not far from Deupree House and our sister community, Marjorie P. Lee. Its shelter is always full of potential furry friends, and it’s an excellent place to volunteer.
This Cincinnati-based, dogs-only rescue “recycles” unwanted or threatened dogs, by getting them out of shelters and fostering them until they’re adopted by loving homes!
There are many, many more rescues and shelters in the Tristate — this is just a sampling. Try Googling your town’s name and “animal rescue,” to find an adoption program near you.
And, if you can’t commit to full pet ownership, but would still like companionship and to help shelter animals, remember that you can always volunteer or foster for a local rescue. The need is great, and the benefits to seniors are clear.