elderly Asian lady holding a pup in her lap sitting on a bench in a park

Human Animal Interaction

Pets can support healthy ageing: a guide to successful pet ownership

The global population is ageing. According to recent UN data, the number of persons aged 60 years or over is expected to more than double by 2050, and to more than triple by 2100.

This will have implications for nearly all sectors of society. For many, ageing populations are seen as a liability – a drain on resources and a challenge to social cohesion. However, ageing doesn’t have to be this way. The later years of life can be rewarding – even fun - if the support is there. And pets can be a part of this vision.

There is a growing body of research evidence that pet ownership may have positive benefits for many senior citizens. Animal companions help people deal with the loneliness that often afflicts old age. They can boost activity levels and help make connections with neighbours. And there are some indications that pets can contribute to improved health outcomes. For instance, in one study 94% of heart patients with pets survived heart attacks, compared to only 72% without.

A new infographic, put together by Caring People Inc., supported by Mars Petcare, WALTHAM™ and The Gerontological Society of America, offers a comprehensive overview of how pets can support healthy ageing and includes helpful tips on how to make pet ownership in later life successful, both for carer and animal.

As the infographic makes clear, pets aren’t for everyone, and it’s important to have a pet that suits your lifestyle. However more could be done to facilitate pet ownership so that older people can either keep pets at home, or have other access to interaction with animals. For instance, sheltered housing could be more accepting of pets. If keeping a pet permanently at home is not an option, then fostering, volunteering with animal charities, or pet visits could be considered.

The partners behind the initiative are keen to emphasise that the welfare of animals is also a critical concern. If a pet owner no longer becomes capable of properly looking after it, then prompt action needs to be taken.