Pets and Human Animal Interaction in the Senior Years
June 24, 2012 Lifestyle

Pets are more than just animal companions. Over time they become members of the family, especially with more domesticated animals like cats and dogs. The benefits of having a pet in the senior years are innumerable, particularly when an older person is living alone or does not have other senior companions within the home or immediate neighborhood. In fact, studies have shown that owning a pet can contribute to living longer and may have a host of health benefits.

Pets and People

Humans have had a long association with domesticated animals. Not only have animals played some role or the other in making human life physically easier, they have also provided emotional support to humans in many ways. However, the role of pets are not limited to physical labour and emotional wellbeing, animals have also played a role in health care. This is probably best seen with the guide dog for the visually impaired. The benefits of owning an interacting with an animal has been substantiated globally and now there is even a form of psychotherapy known as animal assisted therapy.

Pets and Mental Health

Getting older often means having a smaller social circle and less sense of purpose for most seniors as children leave the homestead and retirement means no longer needing to work. While many seniors may grab this opportunity to start up on tasks and activities that they never had time for earlier in life, the reality is that this is not financially or physically possible for every senior. Some may just not have the interest to do so. As family members move away and old friends pass on, seniors often experience loneliness. Loss of a sense of purpose and loneliness are among the main reasons that seniors become depressed.

Pets provide the ideal companions for seniors. They are undemanding, obedient and loyal creatures who give love and attention unconditionally. For many seniors, this type of relationship is ideal as they do not have the same vigor and interest to engage with other people. More importantly though pets can help combat the loneliness. As independent as domestic animals may seem at times, they rely on humans for survival. This also gives a senior a sense of purpose by caring for a pet. While the benefits of the human-animal interaction cannot be fully explained or easy understood, it is known and accepted that a pet can make a difference to the quality of life.

Being Practical About Pet Care

Despite the wide range of benefits of having a pet, there has to be awareness about pet care to prevent problems before it starts.

  • Limit to just one or two pets as it does require time and responsibility on the part of the owner.
  • A pet should not compromise one’s living space so be practical about the size of the pet in your home.
  • Cleaning after a pet and keeping the home environment clean from pet hair and saliva is important in maintaining good hygiene.
  • People with allergic disorders may not be able to live with a pet and this issue should not be forced. One’s health is more important.
  • Affordability is always a factor and a senior should first ensure that he or she has sufficient funds to take care of themselves and an animal before committing to pet ownership.
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