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Seniors and Pets: The Truth About Cats and Dogs

They are happy to see you when you get home and many studies say they are good for your health. Recently, the American Heart Association even said owning a pet can lower your risk of heart disease.

According to the AHA, stroking a pet can lower your blood pressure and pet owners handle stress better, even when their pets aren’t around. Furthermore, experts believe seniors who own pets have higher mental alertness, more physical stamina, and they live longer.

This information does not mean you should run out and buy a dog or cat for your older loved ones right now. Owning a pet also means added responsibilities. Not all pets are perfect for senior citizens and there is no hard-and-fast rule saying that a particular breed of dog or cat will improve an older person’s life.

While a turtle or a fish might not require much upkeep, you have to ask whether these actually provide the health benefits that come with owning a dog or cat. Still, a dog and cat mean a higher demand for an owner, both physically and financially. Each animal comes with their own pros and cons you must weigh before you make the decision to add a pet to the family.


The first pro and con people generally think of when it comes to dogs is taking them for walks. This can be both a good and a bad thing. The good part is that it gets an elderly person out of the house and gets them moving regularly. However, if they get weak or sick, a walk may not be practical. To decide if your loved one is up to the responsibility, you should have an honest conversation with them.

Dogs can also develop their own health issues as they age. While you probably don’t want to get a puppy for your loved one who is in their 70s or 80s, keep in mind that many small dogs can live up to 18 years. However, small dogs are often better options than large for older people due strength concerns. Make sure you understand a dog’s temperament ahead of time too. If you get a more aggressive dog, it can cause a great deal of problems for an older person who cannot always reliably control them while on a walk.

Despite these issues, dogs often make great companions for people of any age. They can help keep an older person from sinking into isolation because a dog’s friendship is a major comfort. Many assisted living facilities often have dogs and cats that visit with the residents because of the benefits they provide.


Owning a cat can be hugely rewarding and less time-intensive than a dog. A litter box means you don’t have to take a cat for a walk, but regularly cleaning it can still be a difficult chore. Elderly cat owners may also need to worry about scratches, especially if they have fragile immune systems. Seniors are slower to heal and can exacerbate asthmatic symptoms (as can dogs). Cats also can get into problematic areas in the house and cause frustration for an elderly owner trying to get them off a high shelf or out from underneath furniture.

Cats can live for a very long time and develop their own set of medical issues as they age. Giving medication to a cat is difficult for anyone, but that problem is intensified for elderly owners. Cats can also be a nuisance to a troubled sleeper and there is always the potential for an allergic reaction.

However, cats can be very loving and provide much needed friendship and affection to a lonely elderly person. They truly become a part of the family and make each day better.

Other Animals

Several types of birds can make good companions. For example, a tamed parakeet or cockatiel, which can live for decades, can nearly have conversations with their owners. Teaching a bird to speak can also help keep an older person engaged. On the other hand, many birds can be noisy and cause additional stress for owners.

Smaller animals, such as bunny rabbits can also be options for elderly owners. These rodents can still be affectionate and provide great companionship. Owning a rabbit, hamster or guinea pig still comes with the issue of regularly cleaning cages and the possibility that they can wiggle behind furniture.

Fish can also be fun to own, and don’t require much upkeep, but there is always a piece of glass or plastic between you and the pet.

In the end, the most important step to take in finding the right pet for your elderly loved one is to do your homework. Talk about the pros and cons and make sure your loved one all the responsibility that can accompany owning a pet. This work is worthwhile because if you find the right companion, it can be very rewarding for your loved one and even improve their health.

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