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How Seniors Benefit From Pet Therapy

4 min read



by Dr. Ryo Sanabria

Senior man with a dog and cat on park bench

Did you know that pet therapy not only helps reduce depression and anxiety, but also boosts memory, and improves socialization? Studies have shown that reducing depression and anxiety and improving socialization can also help relieve dementia symptoms in people of all age groups.

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With age, seniors often go through loneliness, depression, or isolation, and pet therapy is one of the most powerful yet natural ways to cope with loneliness. Moreover, it offers several other mental and physical health benefits that enhance the overall quality of life.

The good news is pet therapy doesn’t always require handling the animal, so seniors of all ages, regardless of their mental or physical health status, can benefit from the therapy.

In this article, we will discuss everything about pet therapy for seniors, types of pet therapy, how seniors can benefit from pet therapy, and more. Let’s get started.

What Is Pet Therapy and How Does It Occur?

Pet therapy is a form of companionship therapy that allows seniors to interact with trained animals, with or without a therapist. 

The therapy can take place anywhere, including the senior’s house or residential living area, hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, or aged care homes. The animals in pet therapy usually involve a cat or a dog, but other animals like horses and rabbits can also be used.

Pet therapy can occur in various ways according to the senior’s comfort and capabilities. For example, for seniors with advanced age or inability to handle pets, the therapy uses trained animals and an instructor or therapist that helps the pet interact with the senior to improve their mental and physical well-being and improve socialization. Many research studies have shown that direct physical contact can significantly improve mood and reduce loneliness or anxiety.  

For seniors who are familiar with pet care and animal handling, the therapy can take place without the therapist, allowing seniors to play, pet, walk, take care of, or cuddle with the trained animal all by themselves. For those who are not familiar with pet care, but do not have mobility issues, trainers can work with seniors to train them in animal care to learn how to play, walk, and take care of animals. Often, learning these new tasks of animal care can provide seniors with a sense of purpose or belonging and also improve bonding with the animals, all of which can have lasting positive effects on mental and physical health.

3 Common Types of Pet Therapy

The following are the 3 most common types of pet therapy: 

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Animal-assisted therapy is a simple form of pet therapy that involves using trained animals that assist therapists in improving the senior’s physical or mental state.

For example, pets can help improve the fine motor skills and mobility of seniors through the process of petting, light play, or other stressless exercises and general activities, which include walking, moving, and caring for the pet.

Pets can also help improve mental health by increasing socialization, which can combat loneliness. In addition, developing a bond with an animal can help some people overcome trust issues, improve communication, and develop a sense of self-worth.

Visitation Therapy 

Visitation therapy is similar to standard pet therapy, but as the name indicates, it involves animals and therapists visiting the place where the patient or senior lives. Visitation therapy is the most common form of pet therapy as it is simple and requires the least amount of responsibility for the senior.

Ownership Therapy 

In ownership therapy, seniors own trained pets and they play, pet, and take care of the animal all by themselves. 

This type of therapy is ideal for seniors who are active, enjoy petting, and are capable of taking care of pets alone. 

Ownership therapy gives companionship to seniors suffering from loneliness, stress, or isolation, and helps relax their minds. In addition, ownership therapy allows owners to develop stronger bonds with the pet, which can have longer-lasting effects than visitation alone. Finally, taking care of a pet not only improves physical activity, but can provide purpose or meaning to an owner by providing new responsibilities in caring for the pet.

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Top 5 Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

Pet therapy offers numerous physical and mental health benefits to seniors, including the following:

It Provides an Emotional Boost 

The foremost benefit of pet therapy is that it provides an emotional boost. As age progresses, people often feel frustrated and stressed from life, and pet therapy is like having a furry, cozy, and warm friend that you can cuddle and play with any way you want. Pet therapy helps enhance overall emotional well-being and provides companionship, and is especially great for those who may experience feelings of stress, anxiety, or social responsibility that can come from interaction with other people. 

It Improves Socialization

Seniors often feel lonely as they have fewer people to interact with. Pet therapy allows seniors to comfortably interact with their pets without being judged. This leads to an improvement in socialization and communication skills and increases the sense of well-being and self-worth. 

It Improves Mobility

Pet therapy helps seniors stay active, improving mobility. This is particularly beneficial for elderly individuals who are less active and need some physical exercise or movement to promote a healthier and more active lifestyle. 

Compared to younger adults, seniors go through less physical activity, which can be harmful to their overall health. Inactivity can increase the likelihood of chronic diseases, like hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, or stroke. 

Pet therapy or owning a trained pet is beneficial because it encourages seniors to stay physically active naturally.

It Helps Seniors Recover From Illness or Challenging Life Events

Pet therapy is a natural health booster. For seniors suffering from chronic illnesses or isolation, pet therapy helps them combat and forget about stressors they may be facing. For example, it may distract from chronic pain or help in overcoming fatigue, depression, or other types of difficult situations.

It Eliminates Boredom 

Boredom is a common issue all seniors face, and owning a pet is an exciting hobby that can eliminate boredom.

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