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Helping Seniors Cope with the Loss of a Pet

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Older people are deeply affected by the death of their pets. Losing a pet can be especially hard on an older person living alone. A dog or cat or even a parakeet might have proved a reliable companion to take care of and cuddle up next to for years. Pets also provide structure for those who are no longer working. So, it's no surprise that contact with animals is especially good for the emotional and physical health of senior citizens.

Here are some ways you might be able to help your elderly neighbor or grandparent after the death of a pet:

  • Ask them to talk about how he or she feels. They might feel especially lonely since they no longer have anyone to talk to at dinner or snuggle up with on the couch. Make a point to call or stop by regularly to check in.
  • Encourage seniors to keep a regular schedule and let them know about community events that might get them out of the house every day (in the same way that walking a dog would bring them more social contact).
  • Can they stay in contact with a neighbor's pet? Simple contact with animals has been shown to lower blood pressure.
  • If they are looking for a new pet, help them think about any physical limitations. For instance, if seniors are exploring the idea of moving into assisted living, it's important to be aware that most senior centers do not accept pets. On the other hand, many senior citizens are perfectly capable of walking, feeding and caring for the right pet for them.  Encourage them to consider adopting a mature pet that would fit better with a more sedentary life style.
Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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