How Pet Therapy Benefits Seniors

Updated on April 8, 2020

Pet companionship can sometimes be an indispensable tool in bringing joy and excitement for people of all ages. This rings true especially for seniors who require more engagement and interaction to keep their physical and mental condition in tip-top shape. Spending time with a pet is a great way to reduce stress, fight against feelings of loneliness, and promote overall good health. Interacting with a pet for this purpose is called pet therapy and it certainly brings a ton of benefits for the elderly.

If you’re interested in learning more about pet therapy, then you’ve come to the right place. Here are the benefits of pet therapy and how it can improve the lives of seniors.

What is pet therapy?

If you own a pet, chances are you understand how these animals can have a powerful effect on human beings. Nothing compares to the emotional bond between pet and owner and it’s this relationship that makes a huge difference in our daily lives. Having a pet companion brings plenty of health benefits that seniors can take advantage of. With pet therapy, these animals can bring a sense of purpose and provide the elderly with the companionship they need to combat both physical and emotional isolation.

Pet therapy is used in a number of different settings. From hospitals to retirement communities, you’ll find people undergoing pet therapy to help enhance their recovery. The most common pets used for therapy are domesticated cats and dogs. Sometimes, even farm animals are used. These animals undergo a basic obedience course where they learn how to interact with seniors, especially those who have limited mobility.

There are three main types of pet therapy and all of which benefit seniors in a variety of ways. These are:

1. Ownership therapy

This kind of pet therapy grants the person full responsibility over the pet. They bathe, feed, and care for the animal and even go out on walks with them. Ownership therapy is great for seniors who prefer to stay active and can look after the pet without any problems. 

2. Visitation therapy

The most common type of therapy is called visitation therapy. The animals visit rehabilitation centers, aged care homes such as Homestyle Aged Care, and hospices to accompany the patients as they continue their recovery.

3. Animal-assisted therapy

For seniors who are undergoing extreme rehabilitation, animal-assisted therapy can help with this regard. It’s an intensive form of pet therapy wherein the patient is paired with a highly sensitive animal such as a horse or a dolphin to aid them with their recovery. These animals help with improving their physical capacity and build confidence as the patients interact with them.

How pet therapy can benefit seniors

Research indicates that pet owners are less likely to feel lonely than those who don’t own one. They also reportedly took less medication, recovered from illnesses much faster, and were better able to manage stress. Perhaps even more amazing is that spending just 15 minutes with a pet can initiate hormonal changes in the brain, causing stress levels to drop and increase serotonin production (which is the feel-good hormone).

Pets can benefit seniors in a myriad of ways. Then can enjoy physical, mental, and emotional benefits and notice a significant improvement in their quality of life. 

Emotional benefits of pet therapy

Seniors are often susceptible to developing emotional illness, especially if they’re far away from friends and loved ones. This is where pet therapy comes in. Pets are able to fill in the emotional gap left behind by family members and reduce the risk of developing feelings of loneliness and isolation. Seniors can benefit emotionally from pet therapy by:

  • Increasing their self-esteem and confidence.
  • Improving their social skills.
  • Reducing the risk of depression.
  • Lessening anxiety levels.
  • Improving their ability to demonstrate care and affection.

Physical benefits of pet therapy

Pets are generally active creatures, thus making them the perfect companion for seniors who are looking to stay fit and active. Because of their high energy levels, pets can participate in a number of activities like exercising, running, jogging, and even yoga. Seniors can benefit physically from pet therapy by:

  • Increasing their activity levels.
  • Improving their mobility.
  • Lowering their blood pressure.
  • Enhancing their physical capacity for more intensive programs like swimming or horseback riding.
  • Promoting more joint movement.

Mental benefits of pet therapy

As we age, it’s only natural for us to experience a slight deterioration in our mental acuity. But that doesn’t mean we should let our mental capacity fall over time. Pet therapy provides a ton of benefits for seniors with dementia or other cognitive impairment. They sharpen our mind and enhance our alertness as we go about our daily activities. Seniors can benefit mentally from pet therapy by:

  • Improving their mental stimulation.
  • Increasing their social activity.
  • Giving them more purposeness and meaning.
  • Calming their negative emotions associated with dementia.
  • Enhance their state of mind.

Animals as healers

For centuries, the relationship between humans and animals have been a mutually beneficial and dynamic connection. While the results of pet therapy are just starting to become documented in the medical field, our relationship with pets isn’t something new. Humans have benefitted from the existence of animals ever since we first encountered them and this connection has only gotten much stronger over time.

It’s no surprise that pet owners feel a sense of elation when greeted by their fuzzy furballs. The genuine love, care, and devotion that pets demonstrate is what heals us internally and externally. The power of pets in assisted living communities can make a drastic difference by helping seniors make the most out of their golden years.

Pet therapy is a form of healing that’s unique from most other therapies. Being partnered with a loving animal has been shown to improve a person’s physical, emotional, and mental condition and the benefits work for all ages. The goal of pet therapy is to not only improve our physical and mental capacity, but also teach us how good companionship can positively impact our lives. If you’re convinced to get a pet for yourself after reading this, definitely do a search on US Service Animals to explore your options! 

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Throughout the year, our writers feature fresh, in-depth, and relevant information for our audience of 40,000+ healthcare leaders and professionals. As a healthcare business publication, we cover and cherish our relationship with the entire health care industry including administrators, nurses, physicians, physical therapists, pharmacists, and more. We cover a broad spectrum from hospitals to medical offices to outpatient services to eye surgery centers to university settings. We focus on rehabilitation, nursing homes, home care, hospice as well as men’s health, women’s heath, and pediatrics.

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