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Pet Therapy for Seniors: How Pets Can Help

senior man with dogs and cat]
senior man with dogs and cat]

Pet therapy for seniors is a fantastic way for elderly individuals to interact with animals and gain a number of benefits. Pets have been proven to help increase happiness and decrease stress levels, and owning an emotional support animal or receiving visits from a therapy dog are both incredibly helpful and enjoyable for seniors. Our article gives you more details on pet therapy for seniors and the many benefits this activity brings.

What Is Pet Therapy for Seniors?

Pet therapy for seniors is exactly what it sounds like – therapy that utilizes visits and interactions with pets to improve and brighten a senior’s day. While therapy dogs are the most common type of animal to be used in pet therapy, cats and even rabbits are all potential options for pet therapy.

In most cases, a senior will own an emotional support animal if they can properly care for it and gain benefits by living with their animal. An emotional support animal tends to provide comfort, companionship, and a sense of routine to their senior owners. In other cases, therapy dogs or therapy animals may visit a senior care facility or nursing home and take turns visiting residents, allowing them to play with the animal, give them lots of affection, and brighten their day.

Benefits of Pet Therapy for Seniors

There are many benefits of pet therapy for seniors, most of which have been scientifically proven. Continuing studies into the benefits of pet therapy for seniors are still ongoing today, though the most prominent benefits of this activity include the following:

  • Increased mental stimulation – playing with pets helps to improve cognitive function, and both verbal and non-verbal seniors are able to play and interact with an animal
  • Decreased anxiety – emotional support animals and therapy pets are proven to help individuals relax and reduce symptoms of anxiety
  • Decreased depression or negative moods – playing with or caring for a pet, or simply cuddling with a therapy pet can alleviate depressive symptoms and negative mood
  • Reduced loneliness – seniors may not receive too many visitors at times, and they may enjoy regular visits from a therapy pet to improve loneliness; emotional support animals can act as at-home companions for seniors
  • Lower blood pressure and stress levels – interacting with pets lowers blood pressure, and it has also been shown to decrease overall stress hormones in the body
  • Improve motor skills – interacting and playing with a pet as part of therapy or when caring for an emotional support animal can help keep a senior’s motor skills sharp and allow them to practice coordination and muscle strength

Additionally, pets provide a sense of routine, and many elderly individuals love the process of caring for their animals or being able to play and cuddle with therapy animals that come to visit them.

Can I Get an Emotional Support Animal for My Loved One?

Adopting an emotional support animal for your loved one can be a complex process, as emotional support animals are typically prescribed by a therapist for an individual. If your elderly loved one is in therapy or is working with a licensed mental health professional, they may be able to receive a letter stating their need for an ESA, giving them the right to live with their animal wherever.

If a valid ESA isn’t possible for your senior loved one, you may be able to get them an easily cared for pet that can provide many of the therapeutic benefits we list above. However, it’s important to make sure that your elderly loved one can properly care for the pet and that introducing a pet into their lives is safe to do so.

Can I Train My Dog to Be a Therapy Dog?

It is possible to train your dog to be a therapy dog, though your pup will need to have the proper temperament for this job. Therapy dogs tend to be calm, social, and love affection, and they will need to be well-trained so that they follow your commands in public. A therapy dog training course is a great place to start if you want to make your dog a therapy dog and start visiting seniors to improve their day.

Make Someone’s Day With Pet Therapy

For many elderly individuals, pet therapy is a highlight of their day, and the experience of pet therapy is highly beneficial. If you have a senior loved one that you want to ensure received the benefits of pet therapy, you may want to consider helping them adopt an emotional support animal if they can properly care for them. Alternatively, you can train your dog to become a therapy dog and visit local elderly care facilities, making someone’s day with your pup’s help.

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Very good.

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