The Positive Power of Paws

Aging adults are often faced with a variety of life transitions that make them more vulnerable to feelings of loneliness. Whether it is the loss of family or friends or having to consider a housing move, such events can impact health and quality of life. This is where our furry friends can come to the rescue! The right pet can not only be a source of unconditional love and companionship, but also provide a host of health benefits. 

It is well known that the act of simply petting an animal such as a dog or a cat can decrease levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase levels of the mood regulating hormones serotonin and oxytocin. This can lead to reductions in blood pressure and heart rate and improve overall cardiovascular health, especially when paired with regular exercise such as walking a dog. Regular walks with pets are not only heart healthy but also improve muscle strength, balance and bone health. Pet exercise routines can also regulate weight and improve chronic conditions such as diabetes. There are also significant cognitive benefits associated with pet ownership. The responsibility of caring for a pet can provide a sense of purpose and mastery. The daily routine of pet care stimulates memory, sequencing and critical thinking. Moreover, the daily rhythms of pet ownership can have a calming influence on owners helping them live in the now. Pets are also excellent listeners and can often sense the moods of their owners providing non-judgmental support. They are also great icebreakers for a variety of social situations. Whether it’s meeting other pet owners on walks or discussing pet care routines with other owners, pets open avenues for connection with others. For older adults who live in a senior living residence or who may be considering a move to one, many of these communities are increasingly seeing the value in pet ownership. Many are open to their residents having pets, but may have restrictions on puppies, poorly trained dogs or larger dogs, so checking on pet policies is recommended. 

When considering pet ownership at an older age, here are some important questions to consider:

  • How often will you be away from home for travel? 

  • What is the financial commitment, and does it fit your budget?

  • How much energy can you devote to your pet? 

  • Are you physically and cognitively able to care for a pet?

  • Is there anyone else who can help you with back up pet care?

If owning a pet is not possible, there are many ways to access pet related activities and reap the benefits.  Pet volunteer opportunities are available at local animal shelters. There are also many short-term pet sitting and foster opportunities available either through extending family and friends’ networks or non-profit associations like Bidawee. In addition, many communities and healthcare facilities offer pet therapy programs where trained animals, and their owners visit older adults in need. For those with advanced dementia, there are even furry, interactive robotic pets that can provide a sense of comfort and connection. Try Joy for All robotic pets.

Pets bring affection, purpose and unconditional love, so let’s open our hearts and homes to the positive energy of pets and live happier, connected lives.

At Holistic HomeCare Associates we value the power of a great caregiving experience and thoughtfully match our caregivers to our clients and all of their needs, including their pets! For more information call us at 646-240-4888 and learn more.  

Anne C. Sansevero RN, MA, GNP, CCM
Aging Life Care ® Professional
Founder & CEO
HealthSense LLC
240 East 47th St 38D
New York, NY 10017
Ph: (646) 241-3463
Fax: (646) 974-9487 – new
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Aging Life Care Association® National Board President Emerita
Aging Life Care Association® New York Chapter President Emerita