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It’s true; those furry, slobbery, wagging creatures can be the best of companions. Popular culture and media show us that people of all ages benefit from pets, with movies like “Beethoven,” “Old Yeller,” “Turner & Hooch” and more. But the truth is that pets are sometimes the only companions for seniors.
Pets provide a comfort system and actually produce a chemical chain reaction in the brain that helps to lower levels of of the stress-inducing hormone, cortisol, and increase the production of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. In fact, pets have been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress levels in humans and can actually help lower cholesterol, fight depression and help protect against heart conditions. All great reasons for seniors to have a pet!
The Huffington Post featured an article that discusses how “caring for an animal stimulates physical activity and gives many people a feeling of purpose.” This is especially important for seniors as exercise and purpose promote healthy living. The article further discusses that the relationship is not one-sided; the benefits are reciprocal to both pet pet and owner.
Catering care to both pets and seniors can be challenging. Brandi Eskesen, Veterinarian at Hawthorne Hills Veterinary Hospital, notes: “Seniors do benefit from having pets in their lives. One of the problems we see frequently as veterinarians is unintentional neglect, in which seniors may forget to medicate or feed their pets. It can be very frustrating. It would be ideal if the senior living communities would help seniors care for their pets by having someone who can focus on medicating them and making sure they get proper care.”
Many senior living communities actually do have Pet Coordinators to help care for the pets to assure pets are getting proper activity, food, medication and love. These pet-friendly communities are thriving as pets have become community mascots and give residents reasons for social calls; all great for seniors’ stimulation.
In addition to being pet friendly, many communities also offer pet therapy programs in which gentle animals make healing guest appearances. In fact, The Humane Society of Dallas has a volunteer who visits local nursing homes:
“One of our volunteers has worked with a pet therapy program, through which a local shelter sends kittens and puppies to visit an area nursing home. The joy the residents’ exhibit when they get to cuddle a little furry friend clearly confirms the therapeutic impact a pet can have on anyone!”
We recently discovered that one community offers “bunny therapy”. In fact the cuddling “immediately produces positive responses from residents, ranging from squeals of delight to calm relaxation,” according to the community’s Executive Director, Dierdre Middlestetter.
It’s important to do your research when choosing a pet friendly community as some communities offer dog grooming and dog walking services for many sizes and breeds, while others only allow small pets with a weight restriction (usually under 20 pounds) — limiting the pets to small birds, cats, dogs, fish or rabbits. Some communities only allow pets on a case-by-case basis. So make sure to contact your communities of choice and ask about their particular pet policy.
Things to consider when looking for the right community: