Pet Therapy: How Having a Dog Can Help Depressed Seniors

Jez Timms

A growing number of older adults are currently battling depression. According to studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven million adults aged 65 years and older are affected by depression. Moreover, people in the same age group accounted for 16% of suicide deaths in 2004.

There are many factors why people become depressed, and the signs of depression in seniors can be hard to spot. However, there are a variety of ways that you can help your elderly loved one, and one effective way is through pet therapy. Dogs, in particular, are said to be able to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression among adults and a dog’s playful nature can do wonders to lift your spirits if you’re suffering from depression.

Health benefits of getting a dog as a pet

According to recent studies, the bond between a human and his or her canine companion can benefit the dog owner’s health in many ways. Not only are dog owners less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets, but owners over 65 years of age make 30% fewer visits to the doctor than those without pets.

It has also been found that dog owners have healthier hearts as they have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than those without pets. Moreover, playing with a dog can elevate your dopamine and serotonin levels, which will enable you to stay calm and relaxed.

Being a dog owner will also help you to shed unwanted pounds. Just walking about 20 minutes a day five days a week can help you lose an average of 14.4 pounds in a year, even without changing the way you eat.

Having a dog helps you connect with other people

Having a dog also helps to stave off social isolation, which many elderly people are suffering from today. Animals can be an instant icebreaker as they can be the topic of conversation among pet owners. It’s also easier to interact with other dog owners as some people may find it hard to get to know other people, but having a dog can be the common factor that helps them to connect.

A dog provides companionship

Most seniors who live alone are often prone to loneliness and depression, but having a dog provides you with companionship that can help you from becoming isolated and depressed. Having a dog to care for also makes you feel needed, so you focus on them instead of dwelling on your own troubles. Just stroking or holding a dog can be a great comfort if you’re feeling lonely, and in time, you begin to feel better and energized just by being around your pet.

Caring for a dog adds structure to your day

Elderly people often feel depressed because they have nothing to do. Having a pet dog will add some structure and routine to your day as dogs need regular feeding and exercise. A dog that has a consistent routine is a calm and balanced pet, and you’ll find that having a routine works well to keep depression away.

Things to keep in mind before getting a dog as a pet

As with all things, there are some factors that you have to keep in mind before getting a dog as a pet. Owning a dog is a commitment, and your pet will require your time and attention. Make sure that you can feed, walk, and give your dog the love and attention that he needs.

Keep in mind that some dogs can be overly playful to the point of being destructive. They can chew shoes or cushions, and there’s always the chance that they can accidentally urinate or defecate inside your home. Dogs should be properly trained to eradicate negative behavior, though you should know that this is common among dogs who are often left alone.

The costs of caring for a dog can also be hard to meet, especially if you’re living on a fixed income. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the first year of dog ownership will cost anywhere from $1,314 for smaller dogs, and up to $1,843 for larger breeds.

Best dog breeds for fighting depression

While all dogs may help the elderly fight against depression, certain breeds may be better suited for pet therapy because of their personality. King Charles spaniels are particularly great for pet therapy, simply because they love to be cuddled. However, they do require a lot of grooming, as their long hair often gets tangled and matted very quickly.

Labrador Retrievers are also good pets for seniors with depression as they’re often in a good mood. They’re loyal and active, and this type of dog will encourage you to get out and exercise more. Meanwhile, Golden Retrievers are extremely well-behaved, and they’re very playful as well.

Whatever dog breed you choose to get, make sure that you have the time and that you’ll make the effort to properly care for your pet. You’ll be rewarded with love, companionship, and a faithful friend for life who’ll help to chase your blues away. 

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