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When most people pet a cat or play with a dog, they relax and their heart feels a little warmer. Now, there is evidence that having pets around helps to keep seniors more healthy. The Humane Society of Canada (HSC) quotes a 1999 Australian study which estimated that Australian dogs and cats saved about $2.227 billion AUD or $1.82 billion CAD of health expenditure in Australia during 1994-95. According to HSC Executive Director Michael O'Sullivan, "Evidence suggests that people who live with animal companions receive numerous health benefits that are attributed to their relationships with their furred and feathered friends."

Click here to learn about St. John Ambulance's Therapy Dog Program.


Pets and SeniorsSome of the health benefits:

  • people with pets are less likely to be lonely
  • people with pets visit the doctor less often and use less medication
  • people with pets recover more quickly from illness
  • people with pets, on average, have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure
  • people who live with pets and who have suffered a heart attack survive longer than those who don't have a pet
  • Alzheimer's patients with pets have fewer anxious outbursts
  • exercising a pet can provide valuable exercise to the animal's guardian
  • people who are vulnerable to depression or anxiety suffer less if they live with a pet
How do pets do it?
There are many explanations for how pets accomplish all these health benefits. First of all, pets need walking, feeding, grooming, fresh water, and fresh kitty litter, and they encourage lots of playing and petting. All of these activities require some action from owners. Getting up to let a dog out a few times a day or brushing a cat, can be enough activity to benefit the cardiovascular system and help keep joints limber and flexible. Pets also provide physical contact and studies have shown that when people pet animals, their blood pressure, heart rate and temperature decrease.

A lot of benefits of pet ownership are less tangible, though. Pets are excellent companions. They can act as a support system for older people who don't have family or friends nearby. Another study showed that people with pets were better able to remain emotionally stable during crises than those without. However, the benefits can work both ways. Often, seniors choose to adopt older, calmer pets, the type that are usually more difficult to find homes for.

Pets in residence
Almost all of LTCAM's member sites welcome pets. In fact, a quick poll of the members turns up enough creatures for a small zoo. There are birds and reptiles, fish, many cats, and dogs of all sizes, from lap dogs to a St. Bernard. Organizations like the Winnipeg Humane Society and St. John Ambulance Pet Therapy Program also bring pets to member sites to give seniors a chance to pet and play with them. In the right circumstances, pets and seniors have a lot to offer each other.

Looking out for our friends
Most communities in Manitoba have animal shelters or humane societies. Humane societies are dedicated to protecting animals from suffering and to promoting their welfare and dignity. They are non-profit, volunteer-based organizations funded primarily by donations.