The Medicine of the Future

The medicine of the future will be plants and herbs…nature’s medicine.

– Einstein

PETS For the Elderly:  A Therapeutic Match

Research shows that older people who have pets enjoy better physical and emotional health.

Animals fill a void in the lives of the elderly who are alone without friends or loved onesl.  Pets can greatly increase quality of life for many senior citizens.  Dr. Sandra Barker, director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonwealth University, recalls the story of Anne, a depressed 95 year old who, after being given a dog named Pumpkin, began to eat again.  When Annie’s landlord sued her for violating a no-pet police, she was asked in deposition what would happen if Pumpkin were taken away. “I’ll die,” Annie replied.

Pets for the Eldery Foundation matches seniors with cats and dogs by underwriting the pets’ adoptions.  “Those who are responsible for a pet are likely to take better care of themselves, because they feel someone is counting on them,” said general manager Susan Kurowski.  The Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interactions published a study for elderly dog owners revealing 75 percent of men and 67 percent of women considered their dog their only friend.

While pets for the Elderly focuses on matching senior citiens with cats and dogs, birds, rabbits, and fish still provide the desired effects.  The Waltham Book of Human-Animal Interactions also published a study that found elderly women in nursing homes preferred an hour-long session interacting with a rabbit to an hour of oopen leisure time.  Animals don’t judge the people who love them, making the comfort of a lap animal, the liveliness of an aviary, or an aquarium’s tranquility uncondition pleasures.

Proof on the Charts

Donna Williamson and her cat, Moochie, participants in the Delta Society Pet Partner Program, were called on to visit a terminal patient.  When they arrived, family members greeted them in tears as the patients had slipped into a coma.  Donna put Moochie in bed with the man, who awoke from the coma, took his arms out from under the sheets and began petting the cat.  “The murse sat there with her mouth wide open,” Williamson said.  “Every time I see that nurse, she relates what a miracle that was.”

The Delta Society is committed to improving human health through service and therapy animals.  While animals are proven health aids to all people, their benefits to senior citizens is extraordinary.  A study published  in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that  elderly pet owners are more active, cope better with stress, and have lower blood pressure.

Dr. Edward Creagan of the Mayo Medical School observed, “If pet ownership was a medication, it would be patented tomorrow.”  Whether it’s walking a dog or brushing a cat, activity benefits the cardiovascular system and helps keep joints flexible.  Creagan cited a study of patients 12 months after suffering heart attacks, finding 9 out of 10 of those with pets survived, opposed to 7 out of 10 without pets.  A study in the Journal of personality and Social issues reveals that dogs, especially, promoted exercise; owners spend and average of 1.5 hours outdoors daily.  Even fish foster healthy living- a Purdue University study found that the presence of an aquarium at mealtimes increases appetites of Alzheimer’s patients who don’t eat enough for good nutrition.

Introducing a Social Life

“We had an elderly gentleman adopt a puppy today,” Michelle McCann of Participants  PAWS in Ft. Walton Beach, Fla., wrote to Pets for the Elderly.  “He was standing inthe lobby holding his pupy as we all ‘oohed and ‘ahhed,’ and he was laughing about what a chick magnet his puppy was going to be!”

Animals are indeed social magnets.  Nursing home communities such as Silverado and Eden Alternative were founded on principles of meaningful interactions driven by an animal-filled environment  Administrator Noralynn Snow houses dogs, cats, birds, fish – even kangaroos- at Silverado’s Aspen Park Facility.  The latter especially, she says, has the “oooh, ahhh” factor, which encourages families normally shy of the residents at the home, to visit.  Cooperative animal care also spurs interaction between the residents .

Different Pets, Different Frets

Though all animals offer beenefits to elderly, some are better suited toward certain individuals.  The International Journal of Aging andHuman Development found that cats offer many of the social aspects sought by lonely peole who cannot provide the regular exercise dogs require.

Additionally, “Many elderly people also get a real satisfaction out of caged birds,” said Dr. William Fortney of Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  “They are easy keepers and very social animals.”  Noralynn Snow of Silverado notes that bird noises are especially important to those who are bedridden, because they can derice a sense of the outdoors from birds.  Even rats provide companionship.  Veterinarian Dr. Cam Day says, “Rats are easy to keep and are not expensive to buy.  I know a hip granny who has a pet rat and adores it, too.”

Bottom Line

“Policies that encourage pet ownership among the aged, either at home or as they make the transition to elder living facilities, can improve some medical conditions and alleviate loneliness,” said Nalini Saligram, board chair of PAWSitive interAction.  Be it on a doctor’s chart or in the wordless testimony of the animal itself, creaataures of all kinds strenghen the lives they touch.

By Barbara Sharmak for WebVet

Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, VMD


  1. You thought of me? I think that’s why I wanted suddenly to look at your website. 🙂 Vicki, you know, I could not live without them… without love of them… I would never give my life for the people… but I would give my life to save or help a helpless animal. Perhaps for someone they are “big” words… but that’s my truth!

    Love you!

    • Hi hon,
      You are the exact reason I wrote this. No one that I have ever known loves and cares for animals more than you, and it was a tribute to you!
      Love you too!

  2. The love of animals is not to be underestimated… If we have a bad time or bad day… many pets sense it and try to comfort us… They are true soul comforters… especially cats and dogs… they sense our anxiety and stress.
    Dogs have been proven as an effective prevention in cardiovascular diseases, psychosomatic diseases and disorders of the skeletal system… And cats are effective with their clinginess, to mitigate anxiety and depression in people.
    Often the presence of an animal is more comforting than that of a trusted person….The animals do not communicate with us in our spoken language… however they communicate with us on another level… One then can understand its feelings in every language which one speaks…This exchange between animals and humans… brings contentment into life…it can contribute to the prevention of different illnesses and increases the quality of life…
    All in all… animals are a large aspect of love, faithfulness and honesty! Just look into the eyes of any of them and open your heart, then your whole life will seem different…:-) They are a part of my life…!

    • I actually thought of you, Olga when I was researching the link between animals and the elderly. You have a great love of animals, and I wanted to share apart of that with everyone!

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