Pet Talk: Pets and the Elderly

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 combination.

“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 Darling.

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 levels.

“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 physician’s advice.”

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 financially.

“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, healthier lives.


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

Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

The Lowcountry is fortunate to have several therapy dog groups that specialize in visiting the elderly in hospice care, hospitals, and retirement facilities. These therapy dog visits truly make a positive impact on the lives of the elderly who take part in the program. If you and your dog are interested in learning more about becoming therapy volunteers click HERE for K9-Care Unit and HERE for STAR.


2 responses to “Pet Talk: Pets and the Elderly

  1. do you have any suggestions for “breaking into” the active retiree market in terms of adopting pets?

    • Well I suppose the first step would be to find out which facilities and “active adult” developments are pet friendly. Unfortunately, that’s an area I haven’t done a lot of research so I don’t have a list I could give to you. Once you know who is pet friendly, I would talk to their “resident advocate” or the person in charge of the resident’s quality of life or talk to the program coordinator for the members of the active adult club. Provide them with research about the good pets do seniors and the elderly and pitch your adoption program. Perhaps instead of residents in retirement homes owning dogs, the facility itself could own two or three dogs? As far as active adult communities go — I would see if you could do events, some seminars about adoption and volunteering, etc.

      Many seniors are on a fixed budget and are nervous about the added expense of owning a pet. Perhaps your rescue could solicit for special donations from the community ( or apply for a grant) toward a specific fund which would help off-set the cost of owning a pet for seniors who have adopted from you, but who run into financial trouble. Pet food, vet bills etc. could be paid directly to the service provider from the fund, vs. being given to the individual of course.

      Now a lot of seniors don’t live in communities or retirement homes. How to reach them?? I’m not sure, but I would keep an eye on the Lowcountry Sun, a local publication for seniors. If there is an event for seniors, or a special program or a get together or what not, I bet the Lowcountry Sun will cover it.

      Hope that helps!

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