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The Health Benefits of a Companion Pet

three elderly pepople wearing white and haiving a conversation over dinner

Visit any older adult’s home, and there’s a good chance that a furry or feathery companion will greet you. According to a 2020 survey, 59% of adults aged 60 to 69 and 49% aged 70 and older own a companion pet. This term refers to domesticated animals that provide humans with comfort, friendship, and unconditional love. Dogs and cats are the most common companion pets in the United States, followed by fish, reptiles, and small mammals. 

No matter what type of animal you prefer, there are countless benefits of having a pet, especially as you age. Most obviously, a pet can provide constant companionship and reduce loneliness. You’ll instantly feel your mood improve when your dog brings you its favorite toy or your purring cat curls up on your lap. Smaller animals like fish and mice also have distinct personalities, making your home more lively. 

Additionally, getting a pet is one of the easiest ways to make new friends, especially if you live in a pet-friendly retirement community. For example, you can bond with your neighbors while walking your dogs or watching them play together in the fenced-in dog park. Also, many communities host communal events with pets, such as “Yappy Hours” for dog lovers and hobby club meetings for aquarium enthusiasts. 

Pets also have many health benefits for older adults. This guide explores the physical, emotional, and mental advantages of owning a companion animal. We’ll also look at the best pets and considerations to keep in mind to help you find the perfect sidekick for your retirement. 

Physical Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Your doctor probably won’t prescribe you a pet at your next annual physical, but companion animals can help seniors enjoy longer, healthier, and more active lives. 

Increased physical activity is one of the biggest benefits of pet ownership. An energetic dog or even an adventurous cat gives you the perfect excuse to get outside for exercise. And regular walks can quickly add up to a lot of activity. According to one study, dog owners spend an average of 200 more minutes a week walking than non-dog owners. This routine exercise can help you stay fit and increase your healthspan.

Furthermore, companion animals can positively impact your cardiovascular health. Interacting with a pet can reduce blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rates. As a result, pet owners are less likely to develop hypertension and other cardiovascular conditions. Pet ownership can also help prevent serious cardiac events, including heart attacks and strokes. 

Also, pet owners recover more quickly from illnesses and injuries. Research shows that physically touching a companion animal causes the human brain to release feel-good endorphins like dopamine and oxytocin. These chemicals increase the pain threshold and reduce stress, speeding up the healing process. 

Emotional Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Owning a companion animal could be the key to a happier and more fulfilling retirement. Having a pet can significantly boost your emotional well-being and increase your life satisfaction. 

Stress reduction is one positive side effect of pet ownership. According to a 2023 survey by the American Heart Association, 95% of pet owners depend on their companions for stress relief. Pets decrease stress in many ways, such as snuggling their owners, making them laugh, and motivating them to play and take walks. These stress-relieving activities can prevent conditions associated with chronic stress, such as heart disease and stroke. 

Additionally, frequent interactions with a companion animal can help prevent mental health conditions. For example, pet owners are less likely to develop depression and anxiety — two disorders commonly affecting older adults. Having a pet can also ease or prevent feelings of loneliness, improving your overall mental well-being. 

Finally, owning a companion pet can improve your emotional welfare. Interacting with a pet can boost the owner’s mood, leading to greater happiness and life satisfaction. Pets may also strengthen their owners’ ability to self-regulate emotions and increase resiliency. This benefit allows seniors to cope with challenges more effectively.

Cognitive Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Pets are often remarkably good at encouraging their owners to stick to routines and reminding them to complete tasks. For instance, an enthusiastic dog may fetch its leash when it’s time to go for a walk, while a cat may meow at its food bowl for dinner. However, pets can also impact cognitive health beyond serving as a living alarm clock. 

In fact, a 2022 study discovered that pet ownership can reduce brain age by up to 15 years. The researchers found that people with pets have stronger episodic memory, meaning they can remember details from stories and events more easily. Also, pet owners process information faster. Animals may strengthen this cognitive function because owners often need to intervene quickly to interrupt undesirable behaviors, like scratching the furniture or picking up trash. 

Having a pet can also slow down cognitive decline as you age. As a result, pet owners may be less likely to develop disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia diseases. Research suggests that long-term pet owners who have pets for five years or longer may benefit the most from this protection. 

That’s not all. Pet ownership also provides mental stimulation and enrichment for older adults. Activities like feeding and playing with pets add meaning and variety to daily life. Caring for pets can also help you feel more mentally alert and engaged with the world around you. 

Best Companion Pets for Seniors

If you’re interested in adding a new pet to your home, you have plenty of adorable options. Many animals make excellent companions for seniors, including the ones listed below. 


Dogs are one of the most popular pets in America, and it’s not difficult to understand the appeal. These cute animals typically love walking, playing with their owners, and learning new tricks. As a result, they’re a constant source of entertainment and affection. 

However, finding the right breed for your lifestyle is essential to ensure you can provide your dog with adequate exercise and training. Luckily, there are over 200 breeds to choose from. 

Many older adults prefer small breeds. These little dogs are portable and easy to handle, but they’re still up for a romp in the park or a walk around the block. Popular small breeds include: 

  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Chihuahua
  • Dachshund 
  • Havanese
  • Maltese
  • Pomeranian 

Also, low-energy breeds may be more suitable for some seniors’ busy lifestyles. These dogs are often happy to lounge on the couch though they still need daily exercise. Low-energy breeds include: 

  • Basset Hound 
  • Boston Terrier
  • English Bulldog
  • Mastiff
  • Pug
  • Shih Tzu

If you don’t have the proper lifestyle for a dog, don’t fret. Many retirement communities have routine visits from friendly therapy dogs. Interacting with these pets allows residents to enjoy the health benefits of pets without the responsibility. 


A cat is another wonderful companion pet. Cats typically require less exercise and training than dogs but still enjoy frequent interactions with their owners. 

These low-maintenance cat breeds have minimal grooming requirements: 

  • Bombay
  • Havana Brown 
  • Pixiebob 
  • Siamese

If you want an affectionate companion that thrives on attention and cuddles, look into one of these friendly breeds

  • Abyssinian 
  • Burmese
  • Maine Coon
  • Persian
  • Ragdoll

Finally, consider adopting a senior cat from your local shelter. These pets are often calm and ready to enjoy their retirement, making them ideal companions. 

Other Options 

A more unusual pet could also fit your companionship needs. For example, small birds like budgies learn tricks and entertain you with their chatter and songs. 

Small mammals like guinea pigs and rabbits can also make great pets. These animals bond with their owners but require less attention than a dog or cat, especially if you get more than one. 

Finally, fish are beautiful and low-maintenance pets. Watching fish swim around a tank can be incredibly soothing and stress-relieving. 

How to Choose the Right Pet  

There’s not a single best pet, and it’s completely dependent on personal preference. There are many factors to consider when choosing a companion, including: 

  • Lifestyle: Pick a pet that fits into your daily routine. For example, someone who loves jogging and hiking may enjoy an active German Shepherd, while someone with a less active lifestyle might prefer a cat. 
  • Health and Mobility: Seniors with limited mobility or severe health conditions may benefit from small, calm pets that require minimal exercise and training. 
  • Time and Financial Constraints: It’s important to ensure you have the resources to care for your new pet. Breeds prone to health problems, like French Bulldogs and Sphinxes, may rack up hefty vet bills. And energetic pets like Border Collies often require hours of exercise and training. Research each pet’s requirements carefully before you commit. 

You should also consider if you have a family member who can take your pet when you’re leaving on vacation or if you can no longer care for it.

Enrich Your Retirement With a Pet

A pet is more than a cute companion. These animals also play a vital role in healthy aging by improving cognitive, emotional, and physical health. 

You can spend more time with your pet by joining a retirement community with maintenance-free living. Many communities also have pet-friendly amenities, like dog parks, social events, and on-site veterinarians. Contact Senior Resource Group to learn more about our pet-friendly communities and read more about healthy aging for seniors.