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Regents Point
Community Service Program

Pets Make Great Companions

While Providing A Myriad Of Benefits At The Same Time

Lots of people like to have pets. In the U.S., 69.1 million homes (63% of all households) have at least one critter that the owners love and care for. Most common are dogs (43.5 million homes), cats (37.7 million homes) and fish (14 million homes). In smaller numbers are birds, horses, hamsters, reptiles and a variety of other animals.

The medical community is learning from these pet owners. They are noticing that the companionship of the animals affects us on 4 primary levels - physical, social, emotional and cognitive. These affects can lead to a number of health and life benefits.

For seniors, a pet can fulfill their need to care for others, create a sense of purpose and offer a relationship based on unconditional love. They can also help their owners feel valued, especially when the humans in their life make them feel insignificant or like a burden.

Walking or playing with your dog can provide exercise, create conversation with others, fulfill the need for touch and sharpen the mind.


Pet Therapy

A pet can have positive effects on its senior owner. Here are a few of the potential benefits.

  • Lower blood pressure and reduce stress.
  • Decrease feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression.
  • Lead to more social contacts and open the door to making new friends.
  • Create movement and increase exercise.
  • Visit the doctor less often and take less amounts of medications.
  • Offer unconditional love and daily doses of affection.
  • Offer a sense of security.
  • Help to deal with the loss of a spouse and other loved ones.
  • Provide an outward focus and decrease the emphasis on personal problems.

With all the potential benefits of having animal companionship, the medical community is taking action. There is research. For example, studies have shown that people who have suffered a heart attack live longer if they return home to a pet.

The therapeutic use of pets as companions is also becoming more common. Known as pet therapy or animal-assisted therapy (AAT), relationships with animals are encouraged and integrated into the care plan. When ownership is not possible, service companies and volunteer organizations bring animals to the seniors on a regular basis.

As for what pets make the best companions, can you believe the type of critter doesn’t matter? What does matter is the level of interest the person has in the animal. The more interest, the stronger the relationship, the greater the rewards.

Note: To avoid creating stress, the pet must suit the temperament, life style and living quarters of the owner/patient.

(Sources: Pets For The Elderly Foundation, Amer. Pet Products Mfg. Assn., holistic-online.com)