February 13th, 2013 at 10:00 am
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The right dog can bring joy to elders

by Dorian Martin

My 87-year-old father fell in love over the weekend. His new “amore”? A 10-year-old dog named Lulu. The small collie is the pet of a friend who came for a visit. Dad kept trying to coax Lulu to come to him with various treats, although our own two miniature Schnauzers were right beside him trying to snag the goodies since Lulu wasn’t displaying any interest. Nevertheless, Dad would love to have a dog like Lulu in addition to our two dogs.

That shouldn’t be surprising. Dogs (and cats) can be really wonderful companions for elders, as well as offering potential health benefits. The Mayo Clinic notes that animal-assisted therapy can reduce pain, anxiety and depression for persons in long-term care facilities and also help patients recovering from health problems, including heart disease and mental health disorders. In another blog post, I wrote about how my dog Zoe could calm down my mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

Of course, pets are not suitable for everyone — some individuals may be allergic to animals, or they may be unwilling or unable to provide the daily care (and cleaning) required. You can also consider animals’ need for regular exercise, grooming and veterinary care.

What are the best qualities for a pet that is going to live with an elder? Since we’re dog owners, I will focus this blog specifically on canine companions.

Beware of those cute puppies

The dog’s age should definitely be considered when making this selection. Houston Chronicle columnist Leon Hale wrote recently about adopting a Labrador puppy. The journalist, who is in his 90s, noted that the breeder was worried about selling him a puppy because it might inadvertently trip Hale. So that’s one big reason to be careful about adopting a small puppy, who may be more difficult for elders to see and more unpredictable in its actions. HelpGuide.org also notes that the elderly might not be a good match for energetic younger dogs.

One great option is adopting from a Seniors for Seniors program that is often offered by shelters and rescue organizations. These programs try to help match an adult with an animal over the age of seven that fits the elder’s lifestyle and housing situation. Another option is Pets for the Elderly, a non-profit group that helps seniors (persons aged 60 or more) adopt pets from participating shelters.

Matchmaker, matchmaker

HelpGuide.org writes about different considerations in choosing pure-bred and mixed-breed dogs, and the site recommends matching an animal’s “happiness factors” with your own. On PetPlace.com, veterinarians advise picking a dog based on size and temperament. For instance, a “lap dog” can be easier for an elder to manage if the dog needs to be transported. Some small dogs may need less exercise, have lower activity levels, or be more adaptable to smaller residences.

So what type of dog would make a good choice? Here are just a few of the breeds suggested on PetPlace.com:

  1. Chihuahuas, which are small, but loud if someone is approaching the house
  2. Pekingese, which are natural guardians as well as lap dogs
  3. Pugs, which are playful and love to be the center of attention
  4. Shih tzus, which are alert, curious, gentle and crave human companionship
  5. Yorkshire terriers, which are spunky and willing to lounge

A dog can make a wonderful addition to an elder’s family. Just make sure it’s an informed decision that matches the proper dog to the senior’s lifestyle.

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One Response to “The right dog can bring joy to elders”

  1. Ted

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and information. I love that the Mayo clinic now has a Caring Canine’s program, with a group of pet therapy dogs!

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