Learn About the Benefits and Risks of Pets for Older Adults

Caring for and interacting with pets has health benefits for people of any age.

Having a pet can help older adults stay physically, mentally and socially active. Taking care of an animal can help people lower their stress or blood pressure, reduce feelings of loneliness or depression, keep a schedule, and pay more attention to their own needs.

However, owning a pet isn't for everyone. Some animals need lots of space, and all cost money, for their food, medical care, toys, grooming and other needs. Pets and their toys can also be fall risks.

Pet ownership works best for older adults when:

  • The older adult has experience with pets or is open to change

  • The older adult can easily walk, bend over, lift small objects and is generally healthy and active enough to meet the animal's needs

  • The animal is healthy and has a personality that's a good match for the older adult

  • The animal's needs don't take more time or money than the older adult can give

  • There are plans for the animal's housing and care, in case the older adult experiences an emergency or moves

For example, birds or fish can be good pets for older adults with limited space, mobility or funds. Cats or hamsters can be good pets for older adults with more physical dexterity. Dogs can be good pets for older adults who are comfortable walking and have more space.