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Elderly People and Pets
Contact can lessen loneliness. Contact can lessen depression.
Contact can bring a smile. And that point of contact can be a pet.
An elderly person paired with an appropriate pet can be a winning
"Humans and animals need love, companionship and activity,"
explained Ms. Kit Darling, MS, infection control coordinator at
Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical
Sciences, and Aggieland Pets With A Purpose (APWAP) volunteer.
"The elderly who are in assisted living and long term care
facilities enjoy visits from pets. Animal assisted therapy
organizations such as APWAP provide visits. It is a very rewarding
experience to see a person smile and enjoy time with Dexter and
Daschle, my pet dachshunds. Their presence causes residents to talk
about pets they once had. One lady gets so excited when Dexter
visits; she will invite him to "sit on Grandma's lap"," notes
Just as elderly in assisted living desire the companionship of
animals, seniors living independently can benefit from a daily
routine that includes a pet.
Darling explained that pets provide companionship, decrease
loneliness, accept you as you are and provide a sense of being
needed. Pets can give the elderly a different outlook because they
live in the moment and help seniors do likewise. They can bring
laughter into one's life and increase socialization. When walking
the dog you meet other people in the neighborhood and this
encourages conversation. Additionally, recent studies have
indicated that positive interaction with pets helps seniors
overcome depression and lowers blood pressure/cholesterol
"Pets keep seniors active both physically and mentally. Walking
the dog or going outside with the dog will increase one's
activity," notes Darling. "Fresh air and sunshine are good for
both. Stroking or brushing the animal is good exercise for the
hands and arms. Pets may motivate the elderly to do activities they
might not do otherwise."
"An animal such as a cat or small dog that can set in a person's
lap may be better for the elderly," explains Darling. "Large dogs
may be more difficult to control. Cats require less care than a dog
and an adult animal may be easier to manage than a young one."
"Food, grooming and veterinary expenses are some of the costs
associated with having a pet. These may be difficult for someone on
a limited income," notes Darling. "A smaller animal may help to
decrease some of these costs."
Another consideration is lifestyle. If you are a senior who
loves to travel, you will need to go to destinations where your pet
can go; otherwise board your pet or hire a pet sitter. Darling says
advanced planning is a must.
"Animals can carry disease," explains Darling. "Good hygiene and
keeping your animal healthy will minimize the risk of disease
transmission. The elderly who are frail or have weak immune systems
may be more susceptible to disease and should seek their
Darling emphasizes that the decision to be a pet caregiver is a
personal one. Senior citizens must evaluate the advantages and
disadvantages a pet will bring to their life and lifestyle. Only
you can decide if you can care for a pet both physically and
"The human-animal bond can be great and pets may be considered a
part of the family," notes Darling. "As one ages, their children
grow up, their spouse and friends may die and the pet is very
important to them. You must decide if a pet will enhance your life
and is right for your lifestyle."
People and pets can be a winning combination. The right
companion animal may help seniors and the elderly lead happier,
About Pet Talk
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.
Stories can be viewed on the Web at http://tamunews.tamu.edu/.
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Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc - (979) 862-2675
Cell - (979) 739-5718
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