Prescribe a pet to the elderly
Pets have proven positive effects on the physical health of their owners. But our animals can help both body and mind, writes Key Account manager Klaudia Felber.

Pets have proven positive effects on the physical health of their owners. But our animals can help both body and mind, writes Key Account manager Klaudia Felber.

My father, at 84, lives on his own ... well, almost. For some time, his cat Findus has been at his side, greeting him as he wakes in the morning, and watching TV together before bed.

I have no doubt that Findus is a great support for my father, not least because he helps him stay active and well. My father had another cat before Findus – after his other cat disappeared, he lost the will to continue living; he felt alone.

But Findus has helped him regain his love for life and the pair are almost inseparable. Findus is the reason my father gets up in the morning, and every time he lies down on the sofa to sleep, Findus joins him by his side. We telephone each other every evening and my father’s first sentence is usually to declare that Findus is with him.

But I think the companionship of an animal affects us on an even deeper level. Pets can help their owners in lots of intangible ways and these benefits can be particularly important to our growing elderly population.

Take, for example, those early days of ownership. A new pet can be the impetus for an elderly person to read up on a new animal or breed – a potentially stimulating activity as they research new information and ideas.

Easing loneliness is of course a very important benefit of pet ownership for the elderly, but it isn’t the only one. It’s thought that animals like Findus can support their owners simply because they live in the moment.

Their focus on the here and now is often in stark contrast to their human counterparts, for whom the future might be a frightening or anxious-making concept. Much like caring for young children, who are wrapped up in their immediate needs, owning a pet is a positively absorbing responsibility.

Some elderly people have the same routine every day, but a pet could be a real highlight in their day, providing a focus in their life and offering variety in their day-to-day routine.

Crucially for older people, pets can also provide a feeling of safety for those living alone, as well as a sense of being accepted and cared for without judgment.1  

One research project even found that not only do some 95 per cent of elderly people talk to their pet, but more than half confide in their animal.2

I passionately believe in the power of pets and would recommend more elderly people take on animal ownership, such as cats, which can be easier to look after.

I think we’re only just beginning to realise how much pets can help us – and particularly our elderly population – in intangible, but very meaningful ways. My father certainly does.

1. A Year of Health Hints - 365 Practical Ways to Feel Better and Live Longer," 1998, by Don R. Powell, American Institute for Preventive Medicine.
2. "How Community-Based Elderly People Perceive Pet Ownership," New J., Wilson C., Netting F., 1986.


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