Pets: Good or Bad for Seniors?

October 8, 2019

Are you a senior who owns a pet, or is thinking of getting a pet?

Or are you concerned about your aging parent and their ability to care for a dog, cat or other animal?

In this blog, we offer up some of the benefits and challenges of having a pet in older age—plus, we provide a few additional considerations and alternatives to pet ownership.


First off, wow—there are a lot of studies out there that enthusiastically promote pets for seniors! Here are a few reasons why:

Owning a pet can be good for your heart

According to this study, owning a pet in older age can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, people in the study who owned any pet were more likely to report more physical activity, as well as a better diet and healthier blood sugar levels. Extra interesting: pet ownership is especially good for your heart if that pet is a dog. And that makes sense, because some studies also show older pet owners walk significantly more when they have a dog, which can lead them to require fewer doctor visits.

Pets help improve mental health

Just check out the graphic below: the National Poll on Healthy Aging, published by the University of Michigan, shows that having a pet can result in some pretty significant mental and physical health benefits!

Pets may help older people manage chronic pain

Check this video and article out: owning a pet may actually help minimize seniors’ chronic pain. How? For one thing, study participants said that focusing on their pet’s needs helped distract them from the pain they themselves were experiencing. As well, the joy and enjoyment that comes from a pet is also a welcome distraction. (How cool is that?)

Pets help with social isolation

We know that social isolation in senior citizens can lead to emotional distress, depression, and even dementia or suicide. But pets can help curb those feelings of loneliness, simply by being present. Not to mention, pet ownership can even motivate seniors to be more sociable with other people.

A woman shaking a dogs paw
There are a range of animals that make wonderful pets!

Risks and challenges

Of course, owning a pet can also be challenging at times.

Pets can be physically demanding

While pets can be great for motivating more physical exercise, that extra exercise can come with some risks. We know anyone can fall—but as we grow older, our bodies change, which increases our risk of falling, as well as the impact that a fall may have. Especially if you have a dog with boundless energy who needs several walks a day, you may be more prone to injury.

Pets can be expensive!

Particularly if you’re on a fixed income or budget, owning a pet can run up the bills. Consider the average annual cost of care for an animal, plus all the other costs you could incur if your pet gets sick or hurt.

Pets can spread disease

Nobody likes to think about it, but pets can carry certain bacteria, viruses and parasites—which are especially dangerous for older adults with compromised immune systems or chronic disease.

A few considerations for seniors

Whether you already own a pet or are thinking of getting one, here are a few things you may wish to consider:

  • There are a range of animals that make wonderful pets!

If you have limited mobility or are fearful of falling, you may wish to adopt a more relaxed pet that requires lower maintenance (e.g., like a cat or bird versus a dog).

  • You don’t have to own a pet to experience physical and mental benefits

You can volunteer at a shelter (which is great for you, as well as for your community), offer to pet-sit if your family or friends go out of town, or even foster a pet in the short-term. In other words, there are many great alternatives to being the sole caregiver of an animal.

  • Not all retirement homes and long-term care homes allow pets

If you plan to move to a retirement residence, be aware that not all places accept pets. (However, Tea & Toast senior living advisors can tell you which Ottawa locations are most pet-friendly—contact us to find out which ones, and what kinds of animals they accept!)

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