Having a pet as a companion can be a wonderful way to add engagement to life. Spending time with a cat or dog brings comfort and wards off feelings of loneliness. Pet ownership is also connected with better overall health and wellness. The University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging found a variety of pet therapy benefits for seniors ages 50+. Their study showed owning a pet helps older adults enjoy life and feel loved. It also helped reduce stress and stick to a routine. Owning a dog was also associated with staying more physically active. Other studies have reported the positive impact of a pet companion: lower cholesterol levels, lower risk of heart attack and stroke, and relief from depression and anxiety.
Seniors don’t necessarily have to own and care for a pet to benefit from spending time with them. Pet therapy can be found in a senior living community, rehabilitation center, or other residential care setting. Pet therapy benefits for seniors cover a range of health and healing effects at all ages and for many health conditions.
The animals commonly trained as pet therapy companions are typically small animals such as dogs and cats, but large animals such as horses and farm animals are sometimes used in pet therapy too. Pet therapy companions are specially trained and go through a basic obedience course. They’re well socialized and safe around seniors with mobility challenges. They’re also naturally empathetic, sensitive to our moods and feelings.
Therapy dogs Edgar and Angus have been bringing companionship and smiles to the residents at Friendship Village Chesterfield since December 2020. Edgar came to us as a puppy, and what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for with his quirky personality. Angus is an Australian Cattle Dog mix, with a natural intelligence and signature “smile” that instantly lifts your mood.
Accompanied by a Friendship Village staff member, Angus visits residents’ apartments and drops in at group events. His quirky personality gets everyone smiling and feeling more relaxed and happier in minutes. Edgar’s sweet face and perky ears bigger than his head have won the hearts of many residents, and he is frequently requested to accompany a resident to an appointment or for a doggie playdate. Read more the work these cute canines do, here.
Owning and caring for a pet is its own kind of therapy. Walking and exercising a pet helps increase our physical activity. Pet ownership gives us something in common with many other people, and gives us something to talk about with neighbors, friends, and family.
Of course, pets aren’t for everyone. Not everyone wants the responsibility or cost, and some may need to prioritize their own health needs. Seniors who enjoy the company of pets but can’t have one of their own can volunteer with an animal welfare organization or shelter, pet sit, or take part in pet therapy visits.
Animal-assisted therapy offers intensive pet therapy benefits for seniors who need rehabilitation. Seniors are paired with highly sensitive animals such as horses or dolphins to promote their physical skills and build confidence. The nonverbal interaction takes the pressure off a senior to communicate how they’re feeling and allows them to focus on making improvements instead.
Pet therapy benefits for seniors include meaningful mental therapy for seniors living with dementia or other cognitive impairments. Interacting with a therapy animal and its handler encourages socialization and memory stimulation. A pet companion also has a calming effect on negative behaviors associated with dementia.
Pet friendliness can be the difference in choosing one senior living community over another. Friendship Village communities are the only Life Care Communities in St. Louis, and we love pets! Whether you own a pet or not, you’ll enjoy a pet-friendly environment and opportunities to meet four-legged therapists, like Edgar and Angus. Contact us today to learn more about our communities and schedule your personal visit.