Benefits of a Therapy Pet for Seniors

Written by Julia on October 29, 2015

A therapy pet can provide seniors feel with a sense of purpose. Helping seniors feel needed is one of the biggest challenges for caregivers. Your aging parent may have good nutrition, access to medical care, physical therapy, and socializing opportunities. But how can they attain a sense of being needed when in a position of requiring help from others?

The Answer to Gaining a Sense of Purpose: A Therapy Pet

The opportunity to bond with a companion animal is the answer to this question. Pet therapy is increasingly recognized as a source of mental and physical well-being. Here are some of the ways a pet can benefit the health and well-being of the senior whom you care for:

Increased Activity Levels

Numerous research studies demonstrate that pet ownership improves health in seniors. As a result, pets are increasingly being invited into assisted living settings.

Psychology Today reports that older pet owners walk more steps in a day. Consequently, it results in greater mobility, stronger joints, and fewer doctor visits.

Pets need brushing, feeding, watering. They need their litter boxes or cages cleaned. They need medicine, exercise, and entertainment. Hence, meeting the needs of a dependent creature provides powerful motivation to get up, move around, and pay attention.

Organic Physical Benefits

Research shows that stroking a companion animal results in beneficial changes within the body’s chemistry. Blood pressure drops, heart rate slows, and levels of the stress are almost immediately lowered. That’s only the beginning. Petting and cuddling a pet animal causes the brain to release a set of “feel good” hormones, including serotonin, prolactinm and oxytocin.

Researchers at University of Missouri-Columbia found that stress-related disorders, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels all decrease in older people due torepeated interactions with companion animals. Furthermore,  more likely to initiate conversation, seniors who own pets report a greater interest in the present moment.

Brighter Mood

As an attentive eldercare provider, you may notice that commonly depression afflicts the older population. According to the CDC, major depression affects 13.5% of seniors receiving home care. Additionally, they found that  depressed older adults are more likely than younger people to show body-related manifestations of the depression too.

The feeling of being wanted and needed is directly connected with greater happiness. And there is no better way than with pet therapy.

Accordingly, “Well-managed pet therapy programs in nursing homes have been shown to reduce depression,” said Dr. Patricia McDonnell. “And even help mitigate the social withdrawal that is often associated with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Tips for Introducing a New Pet

If you’re providing home care for your older relative, choose a pet that will fit well into the home routine already established. Already house-broken shelter pets work well in this situation.

Assisted living communities often encourage residents to own pets. Therefore, you can help your older relative discuss the possibilities with the community management. Organizations like Paws for People are also available to bring pets in for regular visits if full-time ownership is not an option.


The opportunity for your aging relative to enjoy senior care and the healing presence of a companion animal is a great gift. As a hardworking caregiver, you may even relish the relaxation of pet therapy yourself!