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Table of Contents > Articles > Owning a Pet Boosts Seniors' Health
Owning a Pet Boosts Seniors' Health

People who own pets probably know intuitively that their animal friend improves their quality of life. Science continues to support that belief, most recently by recognizing our pets as significant contributors to our ability to age well.

A recent study found that a pet provides both mental and physical health benefits to elderly owners. The researchers looked at how owning a dog or cat affected the overall health of older people living independently in the community (as opposed to living in a nursing home). They found that seniors who have pets are less likely to decline physically and mentally over the course of a year than their pet-less peers. They are also less likely to visit the doctor. They stay more active than their peers: the routines of pet care, such as walking a dog, may encourage seniors to move around and help them maintain better physical health. Pets give older people companionship and encourage interaction with other people; they may help fill a critical void if their elderly owner doesn't have a strong social network. During stressful times, such as the death of a spouse, seniors who own pets are more likely to weather the crisis well than those who don't.

These findings should not come as a surprise. Previous studies have already shown pets to be directly related to their owner's lower stress and blood pressure levels, improved heart attack survival chances, and lessened loneliness. For years, nursing homes have encouraged pet owners to bring in their dogs, cats, rabbits, and other pets for the enjoyment of their residents, and have found it more satisfactory to residents than other types of therapies, such as doing arts and crafts or receiving community visitors. In the 1960s, Boris Levinson, a psychologist and pioneer of our modern pet visitation programs, noted, "A pet can provide, in boundless measure, love and unqualified approval. Many elderly and lonely people have discovered that pets satisfy vital emotional needs."

If you own a pet, give Fluffy or Fido an extra pat for contributing to your good health (or better yet, enroll him or her into a pet visitation program near you*). If you're interested in getting a pet, or would like to get a pet for an older person you know, there are several things to think about. In addition to needing food and other supplies and occasional veterinary care, pets require love, attention, and some space of their own.

Suggested Resources

Checchi, Mary Jane. Are You the Pet for Me? Choosing the Right Pet for Your Family. New York : St. Martin's Paperbacks; 1999.

Marder, Amy. Your Healthy Pet: A Practical Guide to Choosing and Raising Happier, Healthier Dogs and Cats. Emmaus, Penn.:Rodale Press; 1994.

*To find out more about pet therapy programs in your area, contact your local Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).


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Brody J. "Staying Healthy With Fins, Furs and Feathers." The New York Times; 1998:Jun 23. Available at:

Ory MG, Goldber EL. Pet possession and life satisfaction in elderly women. In: Katcher AH, Beck AM, eds. New Perspectives on Our Lives with Companion Animals. Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press;1983:303-317.

Levinson B. Pets and old age. Mental Hygiene 53(3): 364-368.

Patronek GH, Glickman LT. Pet ownership protects against the risks and consequences of coronary heart disease. Med Hypotheses. 1993;40:245-249.

Perelle IB, Granville DA. "History of Pet Therapy: Assessment of the Effectiveness of a Pet Facilitated Therapy Program in a Nursing Home Setting." Available at:

National Institutes of Health. "The Health Benefits of Pets." Workshop summary by the National Institutes of Health OMAR Workshop, 1987. Available at:

Raina P, Waltner-Toews D, Bonnettt B, Woodward C, Abernathy T. Influence of companion animals on the physical and psychological health of older people: an analysis of a one-year longitudinal study. JAGS. 1999;47:323-329.

Vormbrock JK, Grossberg JM. Cardiovascular effects of human-pet dog interactions. J Behav Med. 1988;11(5):509-516.

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Review Date: November 1999
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

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