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Pet Perks
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A residential home for the elderly filled the facility with more than 100 animals including birds, dogs and cats. Rabbits and chickens resided outdoors. Referred to as the Eden approach, the facility had a 15% lower mortality rate over five years than traditional nursing homes. Who wouldn’t want to add years to their life – especially a quality of life that includes the benefits of pet ownership?

Fifteen years ago, I worked as an activity director at a small senior center that applied the Eden approach. We had parakeets, a couple cats, a dog and a rabbit. The residents loved the interaction and the staff could see that it made a difference.

Studies have shown that seniors with dogs go to the doctor less with minor health issues and they even have lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol as compared to non-pet owners. The companionship that pets provide motivates seniors to get more involved in daily activities and socializing.


When raising my family, we had a series of dogs, tropical fish and salt-water fish, hamsters and one skink, but when I became single having a pet was more difficult. Rental apartments often have restrictions against dogs and cats or a hefty deposit or monthly fee is required. Space is also a constraint even if you own your own home. Some breeds of dogs, for instance, require a lot of training and constant exercise, which may be good for some physically fit seniors, but not possible for others.

It was important for me to have something to take care of outside of myself.

Psychologist Penny B. Donnenfeld says, "I've seen those with memory loss interact and access memories from long ago," she says. "Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging."

Finding the right pet for you will take thought and research. I’ve curbed my pet craving by getting a mini Rex rabbit and training it to use a litter pan (easy). He has the run of my living and dining room (all cords safely stored), greets me and runs around my feet waiting for a treat. My old fish tank is now a terrarium and houses a fire-bellied toad. Get a pet, it’s good for you.

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By Dee Litten Reed. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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