The Mental Health Benefits of Pets For Older Adults


There are many things older adults can do to help with mental health: exercise, staying social, volunteering.

Another item on that list: owning a pet.

Pets, most notably cats and dogs, can have a wide range of positive impacts on the lives of older adults, and have been shown to bring joy and meaning to the lives of their owners. If you or a loved one is in a position to properly care for a pet, it might be an idea to consider.

Pets Can Reduce Loneliness 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely, and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are considered to be socially isolated.”

Loneliness and isolation are two of the biggest risks to the mental health of older adults, but owning a pet can help alleviate those feelings.

A pet is of course a constant companion, one that can always be at the side of an older adult. Many older adults have grown children and grandchildren who may live in a different city, or just have busy lives and can’t visit as much. It may be difficult for a senior to get out into the community and meet friends or join organizations or volunteer groups.

But even if a senior struggles to get out and about, a pet can always be there with them.

Pets Can Foster A Senior’s Need To Care For Another 

In addition to just the companionship, many older adults struggle to find a purpose, which for many people, comes from caring for others.

Consider someone who may have been a teacher, a doctor or nurse, or spent their career caring for others in some form. As they retire, and their children and grandchildren grow, they may not feel that sense of purpose in caring for another, and that’s where a pet can be the perfect solution.

Research shows that nearly three-quarters of pet owners say that it gives them a sense of purpose.

Physical Benefits of Having a Dog 

The CDC recommends that older adults get 150 minutes of exercise per week.

Walking a dog can go a long way towards achieving that goal.

While cats may not need much in the way of owner-assisted physical activity, dogs can help older adults get much-needed exercise. Once or twice-daily walks help keep the owner moving and improve both their physical health, and that of the dog’s.

One study looked at the impact of regular dog-walking for older adults and concluded that “Dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.”

Furthermore, it’s been shown that pet ownership can lead to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, leading to better cardiovascular health.

Social Benefits of Having a Dog 

While all pets can provide a sense of companionship, dogs in particular can be helpful at fostering connections between their owner and other people.

Taking a dog out for a walk leads to many people stopping to pet the dog, asking questions and engaging in quick conversations.

A trip to a dog park meanwhile, can allow the owner to spend even more time around other people, and seeing those same people day in and day out can lead to meaningful friendships.

Consider the results of a study conducted by Harvard University: “Being a pet owner was the third most common way that survey respondents said they met people in their neighborhoods. (No. 1 was by being neighbors; no. 2 was by using local streets and parks.) Pet owners were 60% more likely than non–pet owners to get to know people in their neighborhoods they hadn’t known before.”

Questions To Ask About Pet Ownership 

While there are a wide variety of benefits to pet ownership, before heading out to the nearest shelter to start the adoption process, it’s important to ask yourself or your loved one a few key questions about pet ownership:

What is the right animal for me/my loved one?

While we’ve talked a lot about dogs, they may not be the right fit for everyone. Perhaps your living space might not be big enough for a dog. Or the daily walks might be too difficult with your physical condition. In some cases a cat, or even something smaller like a bird, rabbit, hamster or other animal might be the better fit.

Are you/your loved one ready for a change in routine?

Adding a pet to your daily life can mean a significant change in your daily routine, and plenty of the unexpected. Many people like to live their life on their terms without much in the way of unpredictability, and in that case, pet ownership might not bring some of the benefits we’ve discussed.

What is the right personality you’re looking for in a pet?

Different people have different ideas of what makes the perfect pet. Some people want a cat or dog who is playful, energetic and needs lots of attention. Some people might prefer a pet that is more independent, and doesn’t need regular attention or affection. Consider what type of personality you or a loved one is looking for in a pet and discuss with the people at the shelter or store.

Can you/your loved one afford a pet?

For all the benefits a pet can bring, they can come at a cost, particularly dogs and cats. There’s the initial outlay for the adoption or purchase itself, vaccinations, items like a bed, toys, etc. and the regular purchase of food. And then there can be veterinary bills for both regular check-ups and emergencies that may occur. Take an honest look at your budget, or that of a loved one, to help determine your best options.

Pets and Prestige 

At Prestige, we know the joy and companionship that can come with pet ownership. It’s why most of our communities happily accept residents with pets. Contact the community nearest you to discuss your pet and if it will fit in at our community, or any policies or size limits that may be in place.