Pets and Seniors: Evaluating the Benefits and Risks


Dogs and cats can provide much needed love and companionship for elderly people living on their own. But is there ever a situation when it may be better for a senior citizen to forego pet ownership? The experts at Harvard Medical School say that the answer is yes…in certain circumstances.


Studies show that people, including the elderly, can benefit both psychologically and physically from pet ownership. Dogs and cats provide us with emotional security by displaying unconditional love. Caring for a pet can also provide seniors with a sense of purpose, experts note. These psychological benefits can translate into physical benefits like lower blood pressure and increased “feel good” chemicals in the brain, not to mention the exercise you get from walking a dog or playing with a cat.


So what’s the downside for seniors? The Harvard experts note that having a dog or cat underfoot can pose a health hazard for older adults with gait and stability problems. Tripping over a pet can lead to broken bones in some cases. Seniors with weakened or compromised immune systems may be at greater risk for bacterial and parasitic infections carried by animals, as well as allergies.


What’s the best advice for seniors thinking about getting a pet? They should think honestly about their physical ability to care for a pet…and also their cognitive ability in the case of memory impairment. Pets can also be a big financial responsibility for people on fixed incomes.


Seniors who do feel up to caring for a pet should consider an animal that’s not too large or too small in size. Raising a puppy can be a challenge in terms of the time and energy needed to devote to training. Rescuing an adult pet from an animal shelter is a great option for seniors looking for a new best friend!


8 thoughts on “Pets and Seniors: Evaluating the Benefits and Risks

  1. Today´s newspaper, in Finland, told of a cat who took care of a demented man. This cat stopped him at the door out at night and went with him back to bed. The cat also showed him the way to the toilett and with many other ways helped the man. The man lived at home with his wife and the wife told of this cat. The cat was awarded as ” Hero Cat” .

  2. Luckily Sam and I are bookends when it comes to klutziness but for the most part, he’s helpful in making me realize where the raised surfaces are so I can either pick my feet up sufficiently high enough or avoid them altogether. 😉

  3. My mom and dad recently decided to have a cat in their house – one they raised on a bottle. They are in their 80’s and I worry about them falling over him. Thankfully, he doesn’t seem to get underfoot very often and I have warned them about watching out for him.

  4. At age 70 I drove 2,000 miles to Miami to purchase a world-champion pedigreed Schutzhund-quality German Shepherd. I lost 20 lbs raising her as a rambunctious puppy, a definite health benefit. She is three years old now and I am 73 and we walk 6-7 miles a day, another health benefit. We play vigorous games of tug and yes, I have fallen once or twice but always manage to bounce back up with a smile on my face. My best advice on ‘seniors’ getting a pet is to figure out in advance your life expectancies so each of you will die (of natural causes) at roughly the same time. With a little bit of luck she will live to be 12-13 and I will live to be 82-83, simultaneously. I can’t imagine my dog having to live without me, or vice versa. 🙂

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