April marks National Pet Month 2015 in the UK, and this year’s theme is ‘Pets and the elderly: enjoying later years together’. This aims to shine a light on the manifold benefits of pet ownership in our twilight years and the positive impact a furry friend can have on our mental and physical wellbeing.
Those of us who have enjoyed the company of a senior pet know the comfort and joy the mere presence of an animal can bring. Studies have even shown that owners experience less alteration to their resting heart rate and blood pressure at times of stress when their pet is present. Maintaining good blood pressure levels is a crucial factor in preventing cardiovascular problems.
A pet also encourages activity by providing opportunity and motivation to stay mobile. For elderly people living in remote areas, or who are socially isolated, having a dog or cat can give them a companion to share their days with. There are various modes of play that remain engaging throughout a pet’s lifetime and are still accessible to people whose mobility is decreasing.
It’s also worth taking into consideration the psychological benefits of pet ownership for elderly people. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest having a pet that depends on you for survival gives an owner something to live for. Having pet-related tasks to complete on a daily basis can provide structure and routine, as well as preventing boredom.
Many owners grow old with their pets but for some, later-life pet adoption is a suitable option. Senior dogs and cats often miss out on finding new homes because they lack the “cute” factor of puppies and kittens, or because prospective owners are looking for a younger pet who they can treat as a blank slate. The truth is that many senior pets are in shelters through no fault of their own, as their previous owners’ “change of circumstances” have rendered them homeless. Adopting an older pet can give an elderly person the animal companionship they crave without the associated graft of house training a puppy or kitten.
If full-time adoption isn’t a practical solution there are many shelters and rehoming charities that look for fosterers both on a long and short-term basis. This ensures that the pet will eventually make its way to a forever home, but gives temporary caregivers an opportunity to get involved in the care of a dog or cat without having to take lifelong responsibility for them.
There is nothing quite like the quiet companionship of a pet. It warms the heart when a feline curls up on your lap or a dog sits at your feet, and having a furry friend can be the difference between feeling isolated and lonely or feeling fulfilled and content.