18 March 2019   

3 min read
Elderly residents who are exposed to pets have been shown to be measurably more alert and prone to smiling more than those not similarly exposed.

Physical aggression has been lessened and tolerance levels have increased markedly. This has been attributed to the ‘normalisation’ of the environment when animals are present, making those around them more at ease.

Elderly pet owners also make fewer visits to doctors than those who don’t have animal companions, possibly because the animals mitigate loneliness. Judith Siegel, Professor of Public Health at the University of California at Los Angeles, goes so far as to suggest that, “Perhaps pet ownership might provide a new form of low-cost health intervention.”

Trained animals are used to benefit patients suffering with emotional and behavioural disorders, depression, autism, substance abuse, and dementia. Animals accept us as we are — they don’t judge and they don’t threaten — so patients can wholeheartedly interact with them safe in the knowledge that there is no hidden agenda.

Let’s look in a bit more detail at two health and wellness areas where therapy pets can make a real difference — mental health and dementia.


Pet therapy & mental health

A wide range of mental health conditions are now treated through pet-therapy programs. Interactions with animals are considered to offer benefits to patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, and challenging psychiatric disorders.

Animal therapy is also used extensively to treat depression. Petting an animal is believed to cause the release of endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters) which can have an extremely positive impact in patients dealing with depressive disorders. More detailed and developed interventions are often based on the premise that by focusing on the animal and its needs, the patient’s attention is drawn away from their own problems. Patients also have an opportunity to develop their nurturing skills and are encouraged to develop a sense of empathy with the animal.

Pet therapy & dementia

Dogs and other animals have taken part in visiting programs to assisted living centers for elderly people for many years. Although this type of interaction can certainly lift the spirits of those living in such centers, Alzheimer’s experts also feel more can be gained through structured animal-assisted intervention programs.

A recent pilot program in Germany involved six months of structured dog visits to 17 nursing home residents with mild to severe dementia. Participants who took part in the animal-assisted therapy sessions demonstrated improved verbal communication function and greater attentiveness. Patients who took part in similar group activities without therapy dogs enjoyed less positive results. These results showed that this type of activity has a high correlation to improving social behaviours in elderly patients with dementia.



– Rise in Pets as Therapy for Mental Conditions. The Wall Street Journal, November 2013

– Autism: How new therapies are beating the condition. The Telegraph, October 2014

– Animal-Assisted Intervention Helps Patients with Dementia. Annals of Long-Term Care, August 2014

– Dogtime, Therapy Pets And Humans With Mental Health Issues.

– TotalPets, Pet Therapy for the Elderly. August 2015.


This article was written by 60 Plus Club and republished with their permission, you can find the original article here: https://www.60plusclub.com.au/health/benefits-pet-therapy-elderly-residents/