Pets help seniors stay happier, healthier wherever they live, studies show

Pets provide meaningful social support for owners, and they can be especially beneficial for seniors, regardless of whether they’re living on their own or in a senior living community. 

However, many older Americans still mistakenly believe moving into a senior living community means they’ll have to leave their pets behind. In fact, the fear they’ll have to give up a beloved pet is among the top emotional reasons seniors don’t want to move into senior living, according to author and senior real estate specialist Bruce Nemovitz. In an informal survey by Nemovitz, seniors ranked losing a pet as emotionally jarring as having to leave their familiar homes and possessions. 

“Senior living communities like Brookdale Senior Living are all about supporting the physical health and mental well-being of residents,” says Carol Cummings, senior director of Optimum Life. “For many senior citizens, pets are an important part of their lives. It makes sense to preserve the bond between pet and senior owner whenever possible.”

Physical benefits 

Pet ownership benefits senior citizens in multiple ways, research shows. Older people who own dogs are likely to spend 22 additional minutes walking at a moderately intense pace each day, according to a recent study by The University of Lincoln and Glasgow Caledonian University. Published in BioMed Central, the study also found dog owners took more than 2,700 more steps per day than non-owners. Multiple studies have also concluded that pet ownership can help lower blood pressure, contribute to improved cardiovascular health, and reduce cholesterol.

Mental health 

Interacting with pets also has much mental health benefits, especially for seniors. Spending time with pets can help relieve anxiety and increase brain levels of the feel-good neurochemicals serotonin and dopamine. Pets can help relieve depression and feelings of loneliness. The online journal Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research reports multiple studies to indicate dementia patients who interact with animals become more social, are less agitated, and have fewer behavioral issues.