Dogs, Pets For The Elderly, Pros and Cons
National Dog Day
Saturday was National Dog Day. I am not a dog expert but in researching the topic I found pages of articles on the benefits of dogs for the elderly. If you Google “dogs for the elderly” the first three pages of entries are which dogs make the best pets for the elderly. I guess the question of “do the elderly benefit from pets” is a no-brainer. Though it is clear that matching dog to owner is important. Today, I am addressing dogs as pets or as emotional support animals. I am not talking about therapy dogs. They’re a “whole different animal.”
We have had dogs as pets for most of my life. Bingo was the first dog I remember as a little girl. He was some sort of cocker spaniel mix. I loved that dog. Most recently we had a dog on loan from our kids. Dexter, part yellow lab and part unknown mix, entered the family as a puppy just before their marriage. He was well-loved and trained–mostly to do lots of fun tricks. Babies came along, their house got crowded and their lives got complicated at the same time we moved here to our acres of forestland. He needed room to run and we had room.
We agreed to care for Dexter for them for a while. My parents got attached to Dexter the dog. Sending him back was going to be hard. He was good company for them and they enjoyed having him around. He was an affectionate dog and liked being in their room because it was always warm and he was getting old by that time. Dexter ended up staying with us until he passed away. He developed a brain tumor and his behavior became erratic. My parents mourned him.
Pets, Pros and Cons
Digging deeper, it was unanimous in every article I read, that dogs provide companionship for the elderly. A pet companion eases some of the loneliness the elderly experience when their children are grown and gone, they lose a spouse and many of their friends pass away.
Other positive claims supporting pets for the elderly, are that pets:
- Help seniors mental health by reducing depression, loneliness and stress. Pets give them a reason to get up in the morning. “Pets are in the moment. They don’t worry about the future, which can be scary for the older person”, says Dr. Jay P. Granat, a New Jersey psychotherapist.
- Lower blood pressure ( I wasn’t able to find documentation for this claim except anecdotal, but hey, it sounds good.)
- Increase social interaction- Not only does the pet provide companionship, pet ownership brings seniors in contact with other people, other owners, pet supply workers, vets and others interested in their dogs. Dogs are great conversation starters.
- Encourage the elderly to stay active. Dogs need walking and walking a dog forces the elderly to walk too, improving their cardiovascular health. Dogs need grooming, another activity that exercises arms and legs.
- Stimulate senior’s minds. Dr. Katherine Hillstead, a veterinarian in Wisconsin says, “A new pet can stimulate someone to read up on an animal or breed, which can be mentally stimulating…” https://www.agingcare.com/articles/benefits-of-elderly-owning-pets-113294.htm
I found only a few scholarly studies on the positive and negative impact of dogs (or pets) and the elderly. There are many quoted “research” articles from magazines and pet organizations but I wasn’t able to find the real research. . (Maybe you are a better researcher and can point me to some studies in the comments below.)
One study by the N.I.H mentioned the routine imposed by dog ownership helps seniors keep up their own routine. Routines are beneficial for the elderly both from a mental health aspect and for controlling their environment as age encroaches on memory. Routines also encourage regular sleep and waking cycles.
There are a few negatives for the elderly owning pets. When the elder’s pet dies, they grieve as they would for a close friend or family member. The elderly are already losing many friends, perhaps a spouse and siblings. That’s a lot of grief and loss.
Pets can pose a tripping hazard for seniors with poor vision and loss of coordination. Additionally, for seniors on fixed incomes, pets can be expensive. Not just food but veterinary care and medicine are expensive.
The elderly face the problem of what to do for a beloved pet when they are no longer able to care for it or when they are forced to leave their home and go to a facility. Most care facilities don’t allow pets. Some seniors plan ahead by arranging a caregiver for their pet should they become disabled or unable to live at home.
Dogs, The Decision
If you think a pet is a good idea for your elderly parent or yourself, consider whether a dog, a cat, a fish or even a bird might be best. If you decide on a dog, consider if the senior is active or sedentary and match the dog’s level of activity to the owner’s . For some elderly who cannot care for a pet, growing plants can become their passion and a purposeful outlet. For the elderly with Alzheimer’s or other dementias even a stuffed dog can become a companion.
Just as we are all different, so are dogs, even within breeds. There are organizations that help match pets and seniors. Some even help the elderly with the costs of pet ownership. Most match senior pets with senior citizens. Some listed, are PAWS, Maddies Fund, Petsfortheelderly.org, and the Senior Dogs Project. I haven’t provided hot links as I don’t know anything about these organizations so urge you to research them. Happy Dog hunting!
Have a good caregiving day,
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