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Community Volunteers Key to Helping Seniors Keep Pets

Senior with her pet dog.
A study in the Journal of American Geriatrics indicates that seniors living on their own who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental well-being than those who don’t.

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December 28, 2011

Dogs and cats can be a wonderful therapy — mentally and physically — for many senior loved ones, so making an extra effort to accommodate their pets will pay off. Sometime seniors who are struggling with aging issues need help to keep their four-legged friends healthy and well maintained.

Q. My elderly mother lives alone in a town several hours away. She’s had a beloved dog for years that she dotes on that serves as a valued companion. I’ve noticed recently that it’s becoming more difficult for her to care for the dog, such as taking him for walks and to the veterinarian. What can I do to help her keep her pet?

The longer your mother can keep her pet, the better off she’ll be both emotionally and physically. A study in the Journal of American Geriatrics indicates that seniors living on their own who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental well-being than those who don’t. They are more active, cope better with stress and have better overall health. The study also showed they have shorter hospital stays and less health-care costs than those who have no pets. Other experts back up that research.

“For years, it’s been medically documented that companion animals — such as dogs, cats, rabbits and birds — help people live longer and healthier lives,” said Kelly Connolly, Humane Society of the United States issues specialist for companion animals. Those benefits include lower blood pressure, decreased stress, reduced bone loss, lowered cholesterol levels and improved blood circulation. “What’s great, too, is that, emotionally, pets bring new meaning and purpose to a senior’s life. The unconditional love and commitment to their owners is almost like free therapy.”

We talked with the American Veterinary Medical Association about your problem, and here’s what it recommend: First, call your mom’s local veterinary clinic. The clinic may know where you could go locally to find someone to help your mother. Or their office staff people may be willing to help assist in some way, such as to pick up her dog for his regular visits.

Next, consider calling your state or local veterinary association — every state has one — to find programs that could assist your mother. Also, if her town has a community or junior college with a veterinary technician program, contact them. Some veterinary programs have students who would be willing to volunteer to help your mom with her dog.

Why not enlist neighbors or friends as well? Many may not have a dog and would love to help your mom take care of hers. If she’s affiliated with a church, call the church youth group leader. Her church’s youth might love to walk her dog. And they may just be looking for a community service project.

Have you considered that your mom might need extra help around her house, which could make it easier for her to care for her dog? Local Home Instead Senior Care® offices provide CAREGiversSM to go into the homes of seniors to help them with their non-medical needs, such as companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, medication reminders, errands and shopping.

With a little extra help, your mom and her dog can enjoy more happy years together.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. May 16, 2015 at 8:08 pm | Posted by Sandy Robson

    Have large dog now bloodhound-outside dog. Need a small dog that doesn't shed for house -I have to feed dog now too much for me to handle


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