The benefit of pets and animal-assisted therapy to the health of older individuals

Curr Gerontol Geriatr Res. 2014;2014:623203. doi: 10.1155/2014/623203. Epub 2014 Nov 16.

Abstract

Many studies utilizing dogs, cats, birds, fish, and robotic simulations of animals have tried to ascertain the health benefits of pet ownership or animal-assisted therapy in the elderly. Several small unblinded investigations outlined improvements in behavior in demented persons given treatment in the presence of animals. Studies piloting the use of animals in the treatment of depression and schizophrenia have yielded mixed results. Animals may provide intangible benefits to the mental health of older persons, such as relief social isolation and boredom, but these have not been formally studied. Several investigations of the effect of pets on physical health suggest animals can lower blood pressure, and dog walkers partake in more physical activity. Dog walking, in epidemiological studies and few preliminary trials, is associated with lower complication risk among patients with cardiovascular disease. Pets may also have harms: they may be expensive to care for, and their owners are more likely to fall. Theoretically, zoonotic infections and bites can occur, but how often this occurs in the context of pet ownership or animal-assisted therapy is unknown. Despite the poor methodological quality of pet research after decades of study, pet ownership and animal-assisted therapy are likely to continue due to positive subjective feelings many people have toward animals.

Publication types

  • Review