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Advantages and Disadvantages of Pet Ownership for the Elderly

By Debbie Wilburn 7/21/03
Posted 8:26AM on Thursday 31st July 2003 ( 16 years ago )
Throughout history and all over the world, animals have brought love, laughter and companionship to the people whose lives they share. Today, many doctors, social workers, and other health care professionals believe that companion animals are important in helping many people lead healthy, happy lives, especially elderly people. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of owning a dog, cat, bird, or other pet:

COMPANIONSHIP:
Pets fill many lonely hours for elderly people who live alone or feel isolated from friends and family. Round-the-clock companions, eager to give and receive love, pets satisfy the universal human need to be needed.

ACCEPTANCE:
Loyal, devoted, and utterly forgiving, animals accept people as they are. No questions asked.

TOUCH:
Everyone needs to hug and be hugged. A cat curled in your lap or a dog's friendly muzzle thrust in your hand gives reassurance and satisfaction.

SOURCE OF ACTIVITY:
Animals are naturally playful and their antics are fun to watch. Having a pet that requires daily exercise gets the older person out into the fresh air and sunshine, too.

RESPONSIBILITY:
Feeding, grooming, and exercising a pet helps the elderly establish and/or maintain their own healthy routine. A pet's dependence strengthens self-esteem and motivation to carry out daily tasks.

SECURITY:
Pets provide their elderly companions with a very important sense of security and will alert them when someone comes to the door.

PROMOTES SOCIAL CONTACT:
Animals are great ice-breakers. They encourage conversation and invite other pet owners to share stories.

LINK WITH NATURE:
When society was more rural, farm animals served to remind humans of our relationship with the natural world. In today's largely urban, industrialized society, many people are isolated from nature. Pets help fill the void.

POSITIVE ROLE MODEL:
Animals live for the moment. They deal with life's little and big obstacles and then forget them. Pets can help the elderly focus on the present and enjoy the small pleasures that each day brings. Animals' innocence and unquestioning trust can help the elderly overcome cynicism that often results from feeling isolated and rejected by society. Animals and people can make for a great partnership.

But pet ownership is not for everyone and it is important to look honestly at its potential disadvantages before a person decides to share his/her home with a pet.

LIMITED MOBILITY:
Pets can hinder travel if satisfactory pet-sitting arrangements aren't available.

PHYSICAL DEMANDS:
Some animals require more exercise than their elderly owners can give them. Pets that are not housebroken can soil furniture and carpets. Uncontrolled animals can also cause property damage to neighbors and to the community.

DISEASE (ZOONOSIS:
Although few diseases are transmitted by pets to their owners, some elderly people in frail health are more susceptible to such diseases.

CONCERN FOR ANIMAL IF OWNER BECOMES SICK OR DIES:
Many people are reluctant to have a pet because they fear that no one will take care of the animal should they become unable to do so.

GRIEF OVER DEATH OF PET:
Many elderly people cherish their pets as beloved companions and members of the family. When the animal dies, its owner may be overwhelmed with a grief as strong as if he/she had lost a human companion. For people who are alone in the world, the death of a pet can be an inconsolable loss.

If you are thinking about owning a pet, think carefully about how it will affect your life. Know how you will provide for the animal before you bring it home. Be honest with yourself. Don't take a pet because someone else feels that you should have one. And don't let well-meaning but overly protective friends or relatives convince you that you should not have a pet. You know better than anyone else what you want and what your abilities are. It's your decision!

Debbie Wilburn is County Agent/Family and Consumer Science Agent with the Hall (770)535-8290 and the Forsyth (770)887-2418 County Extension Service.

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