25 February 2019

The benefits of dogs for older people

When looking to start winding down in your older years, who better to keep you company than a furry, four-legged friend?

From the mental health benefits to increased sociability, there are lots of great reasons why having a dog is good for your health. Read on to find out the top benefits of owning a dog as well as which breeds are better suited to seniors.

Health & fitness

As you can imagine, walking your dog every day is going to do wonders for your health and fitness levels, even going as far as lowering blood pressure, speeding up recovery and minimising pain perceptions.

According to The Telegraph: “Owning a dog can be a real game-changer for activity levels, particularly among elderly people whose exercise opportunities reduce with age,” says an article by the Telegraph. “More exercise leads to fewer health problems: an extensive UK study in 1991 showed that new pet owners, when compared with people without pets, increased their exercise and had fewer minor health problems.”

Mental health & socialising

As well as boosting our mood, having a dog or a pet, in general, does wonders for our overall mental health, says senior living blog A Place For Mom. “Pets provide a comfort system and actually produce a chemical chain reaction in the brain that helps to lower levels of the stress-inducing hormone, cortisol, and increase the production of the feel-good hormone, serotonin. In fact, pets have been shown to reduce blood pressure and stress levels in humans and can actually help lower cholesterol, fight depression and help protect against heart conditions. All great reasons for older people to have a pet!”

Having a dog also encourages you to get outside, staving off loneliness and meeting new people and other dog walkers says The Telegraph. “Dogs are brilliant conversation starters and many first-time dog owners are genuinely amazed by how many new people they meet.”

“Of course, dog walking benefits your pet as well. Socialising with other dogs can help your pet’s own social skills and provide stimulation – especially if they are the lone dog in your household.”

A unique companionship

Anybody who’s ever had a dog knows just how special that friendship can be. Having a furry companion by your side to support you during your toughest times is something truly remarkable and incomparable to human connections. They really are ‘man’s best friend’.

Next Avenue features the story of Bridget Irving, whose lovely rescue dog helped her through a difficult time. Bridget is in her 50s and an illustrator who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. She decided to get Ben, an old, neglected, one-eyed Yorkshire terrier rescue dog after a failed relationship and a tragic family death.

“I really began to heal mentally when Ben arrived,” said Bridget. “He changed my focus because he needed me to do the right thing for him every day.”

For many people like Bridget, dogs aren’t just company, they are someone who can offer them comfort when they need it most.

The best dogs for older people

There are so many wonderful dog breeds out there, but when it comes to older people, some breeds are better suited than others.

Laura from The Kennel Club tells us about some of the best dog breeds for older people and why:

Chihuahua

Chihuahuas are a “compact, alert and spirited little dog, brimming with personality”, says Laura. Their small size makes them the perfect lap dog, as well as making them easy to lift and carry if needed. They can also be very vocal, which makes them excellent guard dogs. Their lively characters are great for getting you out of the house and their loyalty means they will be a friend for life.

Miniature Pinscher

Another small breed, Laura recommends ‘Min Pins’ because they are “alert, elegant and affectionate”, but they are also extremely loyal and often described as a “small dog with a big heart”. Their short coat is easy to care for and their assertive, protective personality means they also make great watchdogs. They love to play and are often described as ‘bold’ characters.

Corgi (both types)

“A favourite of the Queen, Corgis are outgoing, friendly, assured dogs,” says Laura. “The word ‘Corgi’ is thought to be rooted in the Celtic 'cor' meaning dwarf and 'gi' meaning dog.” As they only require a moderate amount of exercise, they make fantastic companions for those living in a small house or flat. They are friendly in character, loyal and love to snuggle. Like Chihuahuas and Miniature Pinschers, they too make good watchdogs.

Things to consider

When thinking about getting a dog, there are a few things to consider in regards to you, your preferences, lifestyle and the physical demands of owning a dog.

“Every breed is different and has their own needs in terms of exercise, training and grooming,” says Laura. “So questions we’d recommend all potential dog owners to ask themselves are:

  • “Am I able to give them the amount of exercise that they need, every day?
  • Will I be able to spend time training them?
  • Can I afford to care for them on a daily basis, as well as insure them and be prepared for any unexpected veterinary costs?
  • Am I prepared to clean up any mess caused by my dog, both outside and inside the house?
  • Do I have the time to dedicate to my dog to ensure they have a regular routine they can rely on and aren’t left alone for prolonged periods of time?”

Other options

Image credit: Harvey & Hugo

For many people in their later years, having a dog of their own is just not feasible, whether that’s due to strict accommodation policies, illness or difficulty in caring for it themselves. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options out there.

Wag & Company are a charity dedicated to helping end loneliness amongst older people with the help of some furry, four-legged volunteers and their owners. Professionally-assessed dog owners and their pups get the opportunity to visit older people across the North East who miss the amazing companionship of a dog. No walkies or outings necessary, just some treats, cuddles and special moment shared.

At present, Wag & Co. are the only charity that visits people in their own homes as well as in care and medical establishments, and are a great solution for people who rely on mobility aids like stairlifts that struggle to get out and about of their home.