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Pet Therapy Benefits for Seniors

Man’s Best Friend

Pets have been around for a long time helping people and there is probably no better example of “man’s best friend” than those seeing-eye dogs that assist the blind. While many seniors love animals, they no longer have the strength to properly care for one. Although walking a dog is good exercise and many seniors benefit from this, others can fall down while trying to walk a dog. A visit from a pet therapist allows them to have the companionship of a friendly pet without having to take on the full responsibility of caring for it. Pet Therapy, also called Animal Assisted Therapy has been shown to be so beneficial to seniors that it is now being offered at some assisted living facilities. Basically, the pet reaches out to be loved and petted. The pets most commonly used in Pet Therapy are dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and fish. Amazingly, sometimes it is only the 4-legged therapist that can get some kind of positive response from a depressed and lonely senior.

Pets Train to be Therapists

Just like all therapists, pets also have to undergo special training for their job. They have to learn how to properly behave around people who are using crutches, walkers and wheel chairs. Thus, they offer a loving muzzle waiting to be petted instead of jumping up with glee on someone and practically knocking them down. Pets can be taken for therapy to individuals or to a group.

Aquariums and Birds

Of course not all seniors love furry 4-legged pets and some are even afraid of them. However, watching an aquarium of brightly colored fish and listening to the soothing sound of bubbling water from the air pump is very calming. Likewise many seniors will enjoy the company of a bird or parrot, especially if it talks!

Studies compiled by Paul and Ariella R.Cherniack show that interaction between seniors and friendly animals has health benefits:

Lowers Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

Some studies claim that taking care of an animal, especially the healthy physical exercise of walking a dog, lowered blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels in some seniors.

Lowers stress

Taking care of a pet can keep seniors too busy to worry over their own problems and this helps to lower anxiety and stress.

Boosts Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

Feeding and grooming a pet makes seniors feel needed and boosts their self-image that they are doing something important and worthwhile.

Helps against Depression

In some cases taking care of a pet improved the mood of depressed seniors.

Animals Improve Socialization

In one study demented seniors spoke much more in the presence of animals and spoke only a little bit when the animals were removed.

Improves Cognitive Disorders

Some studies showed that cognitive problems like agitation definitely improved in the presence of animals.

Positive Responses from some Seniors Suffering from Dementia and Schizophrenia

After aquariums with fish were installed in dining rooms of several nursing homes, some seniors suffering from dementia gained weight.

A study showed that a group of demented US war veterans smiled and spoke more in the presence of a pet dog.

Schizophrenics who took care of animals for a year showed better social functioning.

Benefits Cardiovascular Patients

Significant results of a study showed that cardiovascular patients who owned dogs lived longer than those who had other kinds of pets or no pets. Also, patients who owned pets had a longer survival rate after they were discharged from a coronary care unit.


Since Pet Therapy has so many positive health benefits for seniors, family members and care givers should consider adding it to their therapeutic routine.




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