How Pet Therapy Can Help Seniors

HVA • 1 month ago

Pets bring colors to our lives. Those of us who have one or more of these furry companions know how incomplete our lives feel without spending time with our pets every day. 

Pets can do wonders to human nature. They can warm up even the most closed-off and rigid personalities. Pets jump with happiness when we share our joys with them and also sit by our sides when we are feeling lonely and down.

Do you know that the warmth and affection pets provide to a human can be used as a form of therapy in seniors?

The healing powers of a cat’s purr are proven to lower anxiety in humans, and petting a dog is proven to lower stress hormones like cortisol and increase feel-good hormones like oxytocin.

In short, pets can improve the overall emotional, social, and health conditions of the senior community and bring several benefits to their well-being.

What Is Pet Therapy for the Elderly?

Pet therapy is also known as animal-assisted therapy. It is a term used for animal-assisted activities and strategies that use pets to interact with senior communities and improve the quality of their life. Pet therapy is most commonly used for the following group of individuals;

1.       People residing in long-term care facilities

2.       Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy

3.       People (especially veterans) with post-traumatic stress disorder

4.       People dealing with terminal illnesses like chronic heart failure

5.       People undergoing physical therapy.

Pet therapy is getting increasingly popular for reducing the feeling of isolation and loneliness in such people and encouraging their socialization and communication skills. These furry friends can provide comfort to such individuals during a time of distress and depression. Petting and playing with these animals can reduce stress hormone levels and promote happiness in these people.

The most common animal used for pet therapy is a dog. However, different therapeutic goals can require the use of different animals for pet therapy, like cats, horses, guinea pigs, fish, etc.

Pet therapy is a strategy that uses the guided assistance of an animal therapist for the interactions between the trained animal and a senior. The animal-assisted therapy can take place in the senior’s own home, residential age care facilities, and nursing homes.

Pet therapy involves walking the animals and caring for them. By petting, playing, and cuddling with their pets, seniors benefits in the following ways;

ü  Better social communication and interaction with other animals and people

ü  Emotional assistance and support in times of loneliness and depression

ü  Better cognitive functioning and improvement of motor skills.

The animals used for pet therapy undergo specialized training, which allows them to be familiar with different types of people and their therapeutic needs. 

Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Seniors are at a higher risk of isolation and loneliness, and pets can offer multiple mental and physical benefits to older people. 

According to research studies, animal-assisted therapies in elderly patients with dementia can have a positive effect on their anxiety and aggressiveness and improve their relationship skills and quality of life. Pet therapy is also beneficial for psychiatric patients, as it increases their self-esteem and motivation levels, thus decreasing their behavioral problems.

Animal-assisted therapy is also utilized as a complementary medicine intervention to improve many health problems in the senior community. Pets, particularly dogs, are trained to be calm, comforting, and obedient. They can reduce physiological stress like heart rate and blood pressure, cholesterol levels, depression, and anxiety in older individuals. These positive effects on seniors’ health can reduce the risks of heart attacks and strokes.

Turning the companionship of a pet into therapy is widely used in senior facilities these days. Regardless of the health condition, age, or ailment of an individual, pet therapy promotes healing in these people and is now being used for treatment and care for many serious diseases like dementia. The beneficial effects of this therapy on depression, disabilities, and chronic illness are extraordinary.

Benefits of Pet Therapy in Nursing Homes

Pet therapy also has numerous benefits in nursing homes. Seniors who live a life dependent on caregivers in a nursing home can feel disconnected from themselves and left with little self-esteem. When they are given a pet to take care of, it can leave a sense of responsibility in the residents and thus boost their self-esteem.

Introducing pets to residents of a nursing home will also improve their social and communication skills. A pet can help bond a group of people as they play and pet the animal and take part in different activities like exercise, physical therapies, and cognitive activities.

Pets can also become a loving companions for older people who are shy, self-conscious, and closed off. These people can find a friend in these animals when they cannot interact well with other residents.

Physical Benefits of Pet Therapy

Besides several mental and emotional benefits, pet therapy also has multiple physical benefits. A dog can encourage a senior individual to take it out for a walk. A cat can bring motivation and energy to the lives of those elderly who have a hard time staying active.

Playing with pets and taking care of them improved the mobility and quality of life of seniors. As physical activity and fitness are directly related to a lower risk of heart disease and other health conditions, pet therapy can dramatically increase the physical skills of a senior. 


Pet therapy is an invaluable tool for the emotional, mental, and physical well-being of seniors. The companionship that these pets can provide brings comfort to patients who are in need of a friend and also encourage elderly patients to take care of their animals, as well as themselves.

The rising popularity of pet therapy is also contributed by its amazing health effects on seniors with dementia, as these patients have truly benefited from the love and affection of their furry friends.

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