Support Pets for the Elderly


Pet Benefit Articles & Information

While the primary benefits to animals are obvious - to place them in loving homes and keep them from being destroyed - the benefits to elderly persons are ten-fold (versus non-pet owners).
1) Pets lower blood pressure and pulse rate
2) 21% fewer visits to the doctor
3) Less depression
4) Easier to make friends (enhanced social opportunities)
5) Seniors become more active
6) Pets offer affection and unconditional love
7) Pets ease loss of a loved one
8) Pets fight loneliness
9) Seniors take better care of themselves
10) Sense of security

In 1980, a clinical research project at Brooklyn College, New York, studied heart-disease patients after their discharge from the hospital. Dr. Erika Friedmann, Ph.D., professor of health and nutrition sciences at the College, tracked each survivor, studying their medical histories, lifestyles, families, relationships - every documentable detail. Co-researcher Dr. Aaron Katcher, M.D., reported:
"The presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival...not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone - independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings."

"How Community-Based Elderly People Perceive Pet Ownership," New J., Wilson C., Netting F., 1986.

Surveyed Attitudes of the Elderly Regarding the Benefits of Pets:

* Talk to their pet 95%
* Pet helps when they feel sad 82%
* Pet helps when they physically feel bad 71%
* Touching their pet makes them feel better 65%
* Confides in their pet 57%

...Conclusion: Pets are an integral component of the social support network for many individuals and therefore probably contribute to public health and well-being."



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"Our Pets, Our Health," Pet Information Bureau, 1987.

"...Another study of coronary disease patients by Drs. Aaron Katcher and Erika Friedmann indicates that animal companionship is conducive to a higher survival rate. In a study of patients who had suffered heart attacks, the mortality rate among people with pets was one third that of patients without animal companionship. Further research indicates that having a pet decreases the heart attack mortality rate by about 3 percent. Since approximately one million people die of heart disease each year, animal companionship may save 30,000 lives annually."

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Public Open Space and Dogs, "Benefits of Owning Pets," Denise Humphries, 1995.

"79% of pet owners find it comforting to be with their pet when things go wrong, and 91% feel very close to their pet...58% of pet owners said they got to know people and made friends through having pets, with 62% saying that having a pet around when people visit makes it easier to get into conversation and create a friendly atmosphere.

"Pet Population Facts," Lehigh Valley Animal Rights Coalition

* 4,000 to 6,000: The approximate number of animal shelters in the U.S.
* 5,000 to 7,000: The average number of animals handled by an animal shelter each year
* 8 to 12 million: The estimated number of animals entering shelters annually
* 4 to 6 million: The estimated number of animals euthanized annually because homes are not available (varies by geographic region - between 30-60% nationwide)"

"Animal Overpopulation," Virginia Beach SPCA

"Euthanasia of healthy, adoptable animals by animal shelters is the number one cause of death for both dogs and cats in this country. In South Hampton Roads (Virginia) alone, 35,000 animals are euthanized each year. Imagine being the Virginia Beach SPCA kennel technician, who must tend to and care for the animals, and then euthanize an average of eight of them a day."

November, 1997, Newsletter, The Lake Veterinary Hospitals

"A year after an acute heart attack, dog owners are significantly less likely to have died than non dog owners...Studies also show that pet owners:
* Visit their GPs less often and use less medicine
* Recover faster from surgery and illness
* Deal better with stressful situations
* Are less likely to feel lonely

...Pets provide routine...they also provide responsibility...even the physical contact is good for us. We all need something to touch - it's soothing and calming...they don't judge us - their love is unconditional.

A recent study found that the presence of pets in most Australian households leads to annual health savings of between $790 million and $1.5 billion, based on the fact that pet owners visit their GPs less often and have better health than non pet owners."

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"A Year of Health Hints - 365 Practical Ways to Feel Better and Live Longer," 1998, by Don R. Powell, American Institute for Preventive Medicine.

"Pets brighten the lives of those who are anxious, lonely or depressed because they:
1) give a person something to nurture and care for
2) offer a sense of being wanted and needed
3) offer non-judgmental acceptance
4) decrease feelings of isolation
5) provide a feeling of safety for those living alone

People-oriented pets like dogs cats and dogs bring families closer together and help reduce household tension. Studies show that families with pets spend more time playing with the pet and have fewer family arguments."

National Health Call Center, 1998.

"What would you do if your primary healthcare provider told you that there was an effective treatment for many older adults that:
* reduced stress
* helped them deal with grief and loss
* kept them more active
* made depression less likely
* sometimes helped them live longer
* made them less vulnerable to suicide
* increased their feelings of personal security

...Well, the treatment is available, and you do not even need a prescription. The treatment is pet ownership."

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"Stress Relief," CapeCodPet.Net

"Chairman of the Society of Companion Animal Studies (SCAS), Mary Whyam, said 'For a lot of people, having a pet means they feel less lonely and therefore less socially isolated. This is particularly true for elderly people living on their own who are less mobile. To them, a pet is a great companion, giving them unconditional love and friendship that they would otherwise miss through reduced social contact."

The Baker Medical Research Institute, the largest cardiac center in Australia, surveyed 5,741 people who came to the center for a cardiovascular evaluation. Dr. Warwick Anderson, Ph.D., and a team of medical researchers studied their subjects' diet, exercise habits, smoking, blood pressure - and even took blood samples. Their findings:
"Pet owners had significantly reduced levels of known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This was not explicable on the basis of smoking, exercise, weight or socioeconomic status. The effect was independent on the type of pet owned."

"She Needed Me," Kathy Susany, Tail-O-Gram, September/October, 1996

"When I come home after a long and tiring day, she is there to greet me and show her love. When I am sick or in pain, she lies next to me and gives me comfort. When people cut me down or make me angry, she pours out a wealth and abundance of genuine love. 'Give me a home' she seems to say, 'and I'll be there for you to the end.'...If I had made her myself, I couldn't have created a better kitty. She has given me more love and companionship than I will ever be able to give back, but she doesn't care about getting back what she gives. She just wants to be cared for and loved."

In 1999, researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo, studying 48 stockbrokers already taking a medication called Lycinprol for hypertension, found that those who obtained a pet reduced by half the increase in blood pressure that came with stress.

"Companion Animals and Elderly People" from feature article "The Healthy Pleasure of Their Company: Companion Animals and Human Health," Karen Allen, School of Medicine, State University of New York at Buffalo

"...Another community-based study looked at home environments of elderly people with and without dogs. In this cross-sectional, observational study, it was found that dog owners walked significantly more than non-owners. In addition, increased walking was associated with significantly lower serum triglycerides among elderly pet owners. The authors of this study are social services professionals and suggest that, in the context of adult development and aging, pet ownership could be another aid to living that should be encouraged and assisted by local service programs."

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"More Evidence Pets Lower Stress," OnHealth WebMD, November, 1999.

"...a pet is very good for you when you're under stress, and pet ownership is especially good for you if you have a limited support system. Research has shown positive interactions with a pet can have a calming influence on people's physical and mental states. Other studies show that elderly people caring for a pet improve their overall health compared to their peers living without animals in the home."

"Pets Help Elderly Stay Active," Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 1999

"...the care-taking roll involved in pet ownership may provide older people with a sense of purpose and responsibility, and encourage them to be less apathetic and more active in day-to-day activities...elderly people who lacked strong social support (for example, friends and family) remained relatively healthy during life-crises compared with non-pet-owners placed in similar situations."

"The Power of Pets" by Laura Beil, Geocities/Petsburgh Zoo

"Pet owners keep dogs and cats for companionship, affection and entertainment... research is also suggesting that puppy love may help keep a person out of the doctor's office...Companion animals are associated with lower stress, fewer doctors' visits and even better survival after a heart attack. An animal may help stroke victims build strength and psychiatric patients quell anxiety...about half of nursing homes now have some kind of animal program...

In 1990, Judith Siegel from the University of California, Los Angeles, reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that elderly people who owned a pet needed fewer doctor visits...Her examination of almost 1,000 Medicare recipients took into account a person's living conditions, underlying chronic disease, education and other factors known to influence health...She found that people without pets average 9.49 visits to the doctor in one year, while pets owners had only 8.42 visits during the year studied."

In an article entitled "Pets and Your Health" from the MayoClinic HealthOasis Newsletter, July 20, 2000, Edward T. Creagan, M.D., an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN, says:

"A study published in the March 1999 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that senior citizens who own pets are less likely to be depressed, are better able to tolerate social isolation, and are more active than those who do not own pets. And these increased levels of activity are not explained solely because dog owners take their dogs for walks. Cat owners are equally active.

We all need something to live for and something to focus on, besides ourselves... Pets offer us unconditional love, which is of significant benefit to our overall well-being."

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"The Healing Power of Pets," Pet Corner,

"Many researchers are finding that the most serious disease for older persons is not cancer or heart disease - it's loneliness...Love is the most important health tonic we have and pets are one of nature's best sources of love...

Dogs and cats help everyone overcome the pain of loneliness by supplying companionship and affection...Pets make you laugh and divert your mind from troubles...they broaden your circle of friends and encourage good health through exercise...pets can aid relaxation, lower one's blood pressure, promote health, and prolong life. They help us unwind...a cuddle a day may keep the doctor away...

Many elderly and lonely individuals have discovered that pets satisfy their needs and enable them to hold on to the world of reality, of care, of human toil and sacrifice, and of intense emotional relationships. Their self-concept as worthwhile individuals is restored and even enhanced when they find that the pet they have been caring for loves them in return."

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"Pet Owners are a Healthy Breed," Richard Avanzino, President, San Francisco SPCA

"One ten-month study that focused on general health turned up some interesting differences between pet owners and non pet owners. Researchers found that pet owners reported fewer headaches, fewer bouts of indigestion and less difficulty sleeping...

When you share life with a dog, there's always a built-in motivation to get out and exercise or just to get up in the morning...An animal's healing, non-judgmental love can add that special warmth to any household. Whether our lives are busy or quiet, our animal companions enrich our days. Pets give us a sense of optimism, safeguard us from depression and loneliness, and break down the barriers that isolate us from one another."

In an article from the December 12, 2000, issue of the Cleveland Plain Dealer entitled "Sad End for Thousands of Animals at Ohio Shelters," it is shown that, for every 100 animals adopted through Ohio's largest humane societies, 172 are destroyed - a whopping 63% of all animals that wind up at the eleven named Ohio shelters.

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An article by Debbie Becker / USA Today, July 1998, entitled "Las Vegas shelter pushes for zero-euthanasia"

describes an aggressive adoption program and high-volume clinic that spays and neuters 70 cats and dogs a day - more than anywhere else in the world. Their logic is: keep the animals from breeding, and you won't have to spend money to kill their offspring. In the prior year, "just 615 adoptable dogs and cats had to be killed - those were healthy and friendly, but the shelter ran out of space to keep them any longer..."

The article further stated that Las Vegas aims to become a no-kill city - the first in the United States. Imagine the results if shelters throughout the U.S. were able to reduce the unwanted animal population with similar spay and neuter programs - and then have the capability of offering no-cost adoptions to senior citizens. While no formal study that has been done on the combined efforts of these two programs, it is obvious that the numbers of animals "humanely" euthanized each year would be dramatically reduced.

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