How Senior Pets Can Help Senior Citizens

dreamstime_xl_47904587When my Mom passed away, there is no doubt my Dad was depressed. Sure, he stilled played poker once a week with his friends and went fishing when the weather was nice. He kept up many of his routines, like going to breakfast once/week. However, my Mom was really the “social” life of the family and my Dad was not comfortable calling people up to come over for dinner … he can burn macaroni and cheese!

That’s when I came up with the great idea to buy him a dog. Now I know they say not to buy dogs as presents, but I know my Dad well.  Really well. I knew a big dog would be unmanageable for him. Same with a puppy. After much research and a visit to the local shelter, I decided on a 6-year-old Maltese named Max.

A senior dog for my senior Dad. Perfect.

It took them about a week to really adjust to each other. At first, my Dad balked at the idea of a dog. “Why do I need a dog?” he said. “At my age, I’m not sure I want any responsibilities.” “Try it” I said. “Worse case scenario I’ll bring Max to my house to live if it doesn’t work out.”

A funny thing happened. First, it became great exercise for my Dad. Twice a day they’d take a walk around the neighborhood. Second, he started to meet a lot of people on his walks because Max was just adorable and everyone would stop to pet him. Third, he and the dog became inseparable, and Max would go in the car with him EVERYWHERE. They became constant companions.

I’ve bought my Dad some great presents over the years. I purchased a surprise plane ticket to see my brother graduate. I bought tickets for two to watch his favorite team (the Broncos) defeat the Patriots. More shirts than he can ever wear in a lifetime. I have to admit, the dog by far was the best gift I ever gave him. I saved the dog from being euthanized and he saved my Dad from being depressed. Max went from the pound to paradise. A win-win all around!

Then I began to do some research on how aging dogs can really help seniors. Studies have shown that pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity and help seniors stay mentally challenged. Other advantages for a senior in your life might be:

  • Companionship. They are constant companions – and they don’t talk back!
  • Reduce loneliness – They are always around to talk to.
  • Unconditional love – They love you no matter what. Many times, they can even sense your moods and give you extra attention when you need it the most.
  • A reason to get out of bed. Sometimes seniors can get depressed and want to just lie around. A dog is a reason to get up and go every day. Also, you come in contact with the vet, a pet groomer and other new people that can be fun to meet.
  • Potential thieves will stay away from a home with a barking dog. The thief doesn’t know your dog only weighs 12 pounds – the growl is deterrent enough. If you are hard of hearing, they can also let you know that someone is at the door … more efficient than a doorbell.
  • A sense of purpose. They often give seniors a sense of being needed, wanted and valued.
  • They give you the feeling that you are not alone that somebody is watching over you.
  • Feel better. Just 15 minutes bonding with a dog sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain, lowering levels of the fight-or-flight hormone cortisol and increasing production of the feel-good hormone serotonin. The result? Heart rate, blood pressure and stress levels immediately drop. Studies have shown that pets can even lower cholesterol and prevent a heart attack or stroke.

I wouldn’t recommend a dog for everyone. In fact, particularly with seniors, you have to choose the dog carefully based on temperament and age. I wouldn’t recommend a puppy for most seniors because they are a handful.  And instead of purchasing a pet, the local animal shelter is a great option.

Looking for the best breed for seniors? Here are some articles that can help you out:

Oh and by the way. Although we are dog lovers, cats can be great companions as well!

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