Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

The companionship of a pet can be an extremely helpful tool in bringing purpose and engagement to people of all ages, and particularly for seniors. Spending time with pets is a wonderful way to combat loneliness and isolation, bringing comfort and companionship, all while lowering stress and supporting overall health and wellness.

What is pet therapy?
It’s no secret to anyone who has spent time with a loving dog or heard the soothing sound of a cats purr, knows that animals can have a profound effect on people.  There are many health benefits that pets can bring to seniors, even if seniors are unable to properly care for one. Pet therapy allows seniors to interact with animals to help improve their quality of life.

There are a variety of settings where pet therapy can occur, including retirement communities, hospices, rehabilitation centers, and senior’s homes. Animals used in pet therapy range from domesticated cats and dogs to farm animals. Animals who are therapy trained complete a basic obedience course, must be well socialized, and understand how to interact with seniors who have limited mobility.

Below, you will find the three main types of pet therapy for older adults, explaining the unique benefits of each.


Ownership Therapy
This type of therapy is when the senior actually owns a pet. Ownership therapy is a wonderful option for seniors who are active and can properly care for a pet. This includes things like walking and exercising a pet, the ability to take and pay for veterinary care, and managing grooming services.

Visitation Therapy
The most common type of therapy is visitation therapy, which involves an animal visiting the senior’s home or at their senior living community.

Animal-Assisted Therapy
This is an intensive form of pet therapy and is used for older adults who are in need of extreme rehabilitation. Seniors are matched with highly responsive animals like dolphins or horses, to help them with physical skills and build up confidence.

Research has shown that pet owners are commonly less likely to feel lonely, visit the doctor less frequently, take fewer medications, recover from illness quicker, and manage stress better. One study conducted even found that spending just 15 minutes with an animal initiates hormonal changes, decreasing stress levels and boosting serotonin.

Pets offer emotional, physical, and mental benefits for people of all ages, but especially for older adults who are at an increased risk of loneliness and isolation.

Emotional benefits of pet therapy for seniors

  • Improved self-esteem and confidence
  • Better social skills
  • Lowered risk of depression
  • Decreased levels of anxiety
  • Reduced feelings of loneliness
  • An increased ability to show gentleness and caring

Physical benefits of pet therapy for seniors
While physical benefits of pet therapy can vary depending on the type of therapy being practiced, these are the common benefits:

  • Improved levels of exercise
  • More mobility from caring for a pet
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Reduction in depression, stress, and anxiety levels
  • Increased physical skills for more intensive programs like horseback riding or swimming with dolphins

Mental benefits of pet therapy for seniors
Pet therapy offers extraordinary mental benefits for older adults, specifically for those living with dementia or another form of cognitive impairment:

  • Increased mental stimulation
  • Better socialization
  • Strengthened ability to plan for pet’s care
  • Improved sense of purpose and meaning
  • Memory stimulation
  • Soothing negative behaviors associated with dementia



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