The benefits and risks of owning a pet — especially for older adults

Pets can bring much joy to the life of an older adult. They also bring their own set of unique challenges for their senior owner. If you or someone you know and care for is an older adult and would like to have a pet as a companion, please read on to learn important information that you’ll want to take into consideration before you make the decision to get a pet.

The benefits of pet ownership for older adults

Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners. Some of the health benefits of having a pet include:

  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Decreased cholesterol levels
  • Decreased triglyceride levels
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  • Increased opportunities for socialization

The risks of pet ownership for older adults

However, there are two sides to pet ownership. While the benefits are great and numerous, one also has to take into account the risks the come from owning a pet.

One risk is the added burden of caring for a pet. Pets, in many ways, are like children. They need to be fed. Many pets need to be groomed, and all of them need to have their environments kept clean. Some dogs need to be walked on often for both exercise and to relieve themselves. Cats requite a litter box that needs to be emptied and cleaned on a regular basis. Some pets will need to take medications. Being the person responsible for all of this takes time and energy that the senior may or may not have.

A pet also requires supplies — such as food bowls, leashes, cages, pet beds, fresh food, fresh litter, etc. — that will need to be purchased and re-purchased. Most pets need an annual physical with shots (and some of these shots, such as a rabies shot, is usually required by law). Some pets need medications regularly. Plus, one needs to consider as well that the pet could have one or more medical emergencies or extraordinary health issues during its lifetime that will require more extreme healthcare — and could cost a significant amount of money. Before buying a pet, make sure that you have the financial means required to refill necessary supplies and take good care of the pet, always.

Another important thing to consider that often gets forgotten is that, sometimes, pets carry harmful germs that can make people sick. The diseases people get from animals are called zoonotic (zoe-oh-NOT-ic) diseases. (Learn more about these diseases by clicking HERE.) Unfortunately, it’s hard to know which animals could be carrying zoonotic diseases, especially since animals carrying these germs can often look healthy and normal. But regular trips to the veterinarian can help identify such diseases.

Lastly, not all pets are friendly, and even friendly pets can sometimes be aggressive. Dogs can bite, cats can scratch — even larger birds can do serious damage to a human with their claws and strong beaks. The senior owner must be well-equipped and capable of handling any possible aggressive behavior from a pet, and they must also be prepared to take the necessary steps to address and correct any such behavior.

Keeping both pets and their senior owners healthy

Here are some tips that can help seniors and their pets stay healthy:

  • Take the pet to its veterinarian regularly so it stays in good health.
  • Practice good hygiene around pets so they don’t pass germs to other animals or people.
  • Learn about diseases different types of animals can spread to be prepared and on the lookout.

While it can be a lot of work, pet ownership can also be fulfilling and give new meaning and purpose to the older adult’s life. Consider both the benefits and the risks to decide if pet ownership is right for you or the senior you love.


Some information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infections Disease (NCEZID)