How Senior Living Residents Benefit from Owning a Pet

A senior man giving a high five to his small cute dog on a dining table.

Anyone who’s been greeted at the door with an enthusiastically wagging tail or earned the soothing purr of a satisfied feline knows pet ownership comes with great rewards. Indeed, multiple studies affirm numerous advantages of the human-pet bond. Physical, emotional and mental wellness are just some of the benefits of owning a pet for seniors.

Adding a pet to your family in retirement may look a little different than it did in your younger years, but plenty of older adults successfully integrate a pet into their household. Learning more about the benefits of pets for seniors and the types of pets that are best suited for retirement living may help you decide whether taking on the responsibility of a pet is the right choice for you.

How Pets Help You Age Gracefully

Companionship is one of the more obvious benefits of having a pet, and that can be especially true for older adults who are prone to loneliness. Since feeling lonely can have a strong ripple effect on your physical and mental well-being, that’s a big advantage in its own right. However, there are many more benefits of owning a pet for seniors.

  • Decreased heart disease risk: A large body of research supports a connection between pet ownership and cardiovascular health. Studies have shown dog owners have lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and lower overall risk of heart disease.
  • More physical activity: While the data applies primarily to dog owners whose pets demand regular walks, research shows highly bonded pet owners tend to be a more physically active bunch. That, in turn, translates into lower body mass index, greater mobility, fewer physical limitations and less time visiting doctors.
  • Sense of purpose: It’s common for seniors to struggle with filling their days in meaningful ways. Caring for a pet is an ongoing responsibility that requires routine and structure, and successfully taking care of a pet can provide a welcome sense of accomplishment.
  • Lower stress levels: Pet owners may find their furry friends help offset stress in numerous ways, including the simple, repetitive act of stroking a pet’s soft, silky coat. Playful interaction, unabashed affection and a nonjudgmental ear when you want to complain are other ways pets help offset stress.

Best Pets for Older Adults

Which kind of pet suits you best depends on many factors. For example, all dogs require exercise, but some have higher energy demands than others. Factors like grooming and shedding may also influence which type of pet you ultimately choose.


While they offer some great benefits, like motivating owners to stay physically active, dogs require a lot of work. Regularly feeding, watering, walking and grooming a dog is a big responsibility that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Small and medium-sized breeds tend to be better choices for seniors because they’re easier to manage and can live comfortably in pet-friendly senior apartments.

Also remember that puppies may be sweet and fun, but training can be a large burden for a senior. Adopting an older dog is often a better choice for a senior, although it’s important to do some research and ensure you’re not taking on a dog that was surrendered due to behavior problems.


Typically less rambunctious than dogs, cats can be a great choice for a senior seeking a pet companion. While they still require regular care, cats are far more self-sufficient than dogs and can easily be left alone for short periods of time as long as they have access to food, water and a litter box.

One potential downfall with cats is their tendency to be standoffish, and it can be difficult to determine how sociable or independent a kitten will grow to be. Adopting an older cat whose disposition is known can help ensure you’re getting the type of companion you want.


You’ve probably noticed how many doctor’s offices have fish tanks in the waiting room, and that’s no coincidence. Watching fish dart to and fro can be hypnotically soothing. It may be the way the tranquil environment captures attention, distracting you from bothersome thoughts, or it may be something to do with the calming effects of water. Either way, caring for fish is a less strenuous way to enjoy many of the same benefits of owning other pets.


Watching the antics of a pet bird can be equally captivating, and their cheerful songs add lively character to your home. Birds are generally low maintenance, making them a great option for a senior with mobility concerns.

Find a Pet-Friendly Place to Live

If you’re already a pet parent, or plan to become one soon, finding a retirement community that shares your appreciation for four-legged family members is a must. Legacy Pointe at UCF, a not-for-profit lifecare community affiliated with the University of Central Florida (UCF), is a pet-friendly senior living community that welcomes dogs, cats, birds and fish in pet-friendly areas of the campus.

In addition to beautifully landscaped grounds, ideal for exercising a pet, the 43-acre campus offers dynamic independent living and a full continuum of on-site health care for residents’ whose needs change in the future. Contact us to learn more about how you and your beloved pet will feel right at home at Legacy Pointe at UCF.

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