Health Benefits of Pets for Seniors

Reviewed and Updated by Anastasia Iliou,

Health Benefits of Pets for Seniors

Most people can’t help but smile when a fluffy dog comes running over. Did you know that pets (especially dogs and cats) have been proven to provide both mental and physical health benefits? Your health and well-being may just be the best excuse yet for you to adopt a furry friend.

Health Benefits of Pets:

They boost your immune system.

Pets who live outdoors or are frequently outside can easily bring bacteria into your home. In most cases, that bacteria won’t be enough to get you sick, but it will expose your body to the specific bacteria and prepare your immune system.

Pets reduce stress

There’s a reason why so many people have registered Emotional Support Animals. They can help prevent breakdowns and emotional outbursts in stressful situations just by their adorable presence. Pets for seniors also notoriously provide unconditional love, giving their owners confidence and helping to reduce feelings of loneliness and self-doubt. Whether they are registered as Emotional Support Animals or not, pets are great for those with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression as well as those who just need a friend.

They get you outside and moving.

All animals (but especially dogs) will force you to get outside and moving. Even just taking a walk around the block with your dog is enough to lift your spirit. Plus, the extra exercise and vitamin D is great for your body.

Companion Dogs

By definition, a companion dog is not actually a working dog. You can register a companion dog as an emotional support animal, but it would still technically not be a a service animal. Companion dogs can become certified companions by passing a series of basic obedience tests. All that a companion certification does for you is that when you list your dog’s name on a document, you can follow it with “CD,” for “companion dog.” This tells whoever is reading your paperwork that your dog is certifiably obedient.

While companion dog certification is great for those who are in great health but are looking for a companion, seniors with disabilities may want to look into their service dog eligibility.

Companion Cats for Seniors

Technically, any cat can be a companion cat in the same way that any dog can be a companion dog. However, you can not train and register your companion cat in the same way that you can a dog. If you truly need your cat for emotional support, you can register it as an emotional support animal instead.

There is no question that cats can be just as beneficial as dogs for emotional support. More specifically, Persian, Ragdoll, Abyssinian, Burmese, Maine Coon, and Exotic Shorthair cats have a tendency to be very loving and social cats (but other breeds can be emotional support animals as well). To officially certify your cat, you’ll need to see a licensed specialist. Most online emotional service animal registrations are scams, so please see a real specialist.

Assistance Dogs of America

ADAI, or Assistance Dogs of America, Inc. helps disabled people of all ages find a trained service dog to assist with their daily needs. Even if you yourself can’t have a service animal for any reason, ADAI places therapy dogs in nursing homes, hospice facilities, and even jails.

Assistance dogs can be trained as guide dogs, hearing aid dogs, service dogs, and for help controlling conditions like seizures, PTSD, and severe stress. They can provide tasks even as detailed as opening doors/refrigerators/washing machines, flipping switches, dressing assistance, carrying items, picking up dropped items, helping you stand up from a fall, helping you climb stairs, etc.

If you do not adopt your service dog from Assistance Dogs of America or another certified service dog adoption service, you will need to register your service dog yourself. Dogs can be registered for seizure response, medication reminders, psychiatric disabilities, and seeing eye services. Registering your service dog means that you will be legally allowed to bring your dog anywhere (including rental housing). We recommend that you adopt your service dog from a certified provider (like Assistance Dogs of America) for the most legitimate certification that should not give you any sort of problem at any public facility.

America’s VetDogs

Based out of Smithtown, NY, America’s VetDogs trains service dogs specifically for veterans who suffer from physical injuries, hearing and vision loss, seizures, and PTSD. America’s VetDogs requires that you have served in the U.S. Armed Forces or are a first responder who has become disabled. You must participate in a two-week training program to learn how to care for and work with your service dog, and you must be able to afford at least $100 per month (for food, vet bills, etc.) and be able to care for your dog. Your transportation to the facility is free and there are no adoption fees!

Seniors for Seniors pet Adoption

Seniors for Seniors pet adoption programs are becoming more and more common. There just may be one in a shelter near you! Seniors for Seniors means that a shelter can help senior humans find a senior pet to care for! Puppies are a lot more work and have a lot more energy than senior dogs and cats, and you may find comfort in helping another living thing live his best senior life.

Whether you want to adopt an older pet or not, hundreds of shelters around the world have programs for seniors that include waived adoption fees! One foundation, Pets For The Elderly, can even pay adoption fees for you – just check out their list of participating shelters and see if there’s one near you. However, remember that even if your adoption fee is waived, you’ll still have other pet costs to consider (food, toys, vet bills, etc.).

Pet Therapy for the Elderly

Pet Therapy can mean a lot of different things. Most people first think of emotional therapy and emotional support animals, but pet therapy can provide physical benefits as well! Pet therapy for the elderly is designed to allow seniors to feel less lonely, use less medication, recover more quickly, have lower blood pressure and cholesterol, handle stress better, and even visit the doctor less often.

Seniors have been proven to have better communication, improved memory, and even improved motor skills thanks to pet therapy. Some of this is due to occasional visits from therapy dogs, but a lot of it is due to dog or cat ownership. Seniors who have dogs or cats at home generally get more exercise from walking and playing, work their muscles more from petting, walking, bathing, and brushing, and reduce their stress and depression from the love that pets for seniors provide! Plus, the mental stimulation from the love of a pet can improve memory and social skills!

If you can’t afford a pet or are unable to care for an animal for any reason, check out your local senior center or ask if your health plan knows of a pet therapy center in your area. You can also try volunteering at a local animal shelter!

Dogs in Nursing Homes

Some shelters and pet therapy centers work with nursing homes and other care facilities to bring in dogs to play with seniors! The animals could use the love and affection as much as the seniors can, so everyone wins! Sometimes these will be adoptable shelter dogs, and other times nursing homes may work with actual pet therapy centers that have trained companion dogs for you to spend time with.

Affordable Pet Insurance

If you haven’t adopted a pet yet because you’re worried about vet bills, did you know you can buy health insurance for your pet? While there isn’t really a Medicare for dogs, there are good coverage options out there for animals. You can choose an affordable pet insurance plan based on how much coverage you want and how much you want to pay each month. In most cases, you can use any licensed vet and then get reimbursed by your plan later (unlike health insurance, where you have a distinct doctor network).

Pet insurance generally covers expenses for illnesses and accidents that your furry friends get into. It can really come in handy if your curious kitty eats something she shouldn’t have or if your dog develops a hereditary tumor.

Service Dog Financial Assistance

If you have a qualifying disability and have a service dog helping you around, you may qualify for service dog financial assistance! This will help tremendously with your vet bills, pet food costs, and training expenses. Some veterinarians (but not all) will even provide discounted services for service animals, so make sure your vet is aware if your animal is a registered service animal. Additionally, landlords are required to waive any pet fees for you and your service animal as long as you meet their conditions.

A few examples of organizations that provide other service dog financial assistance are:

  • The Assistance Dog Special Allowance (ADSA) Program (monthly payments of $50)
  • PETCO Foundation (mainly donation-based)
  • The Seeing Eye (low-cost seeing eye dog program)
  • Planet Dog Foundation (provides service dog grants)
  • Assistance Dog United Campaign (grants, donations, and vouchers)

Medicare for Dogs

We wish we could provide Medicare for your dog, but that doesn’t exist (yet). The least we can do is help you find a plan that will help you afford to take care of your pets! Click here to request a call and find out if you can save more money on healthcare.

*This post was originally published on 3/29/18, updated on 9/18/18.

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