All cat parents know the joy that a cat’s unconditional love can bring. Hearing that purr as they curl up on our laps. Feeling that sense of calm as we stroke our feline friend. With this in mind, we explore the question ‘are cats good pets for the elderly? Are there benefits of cats for seniors?
Well, there are a number of ways that having a pet cat can benefit seniors. Many studies have concluded that cats can have a positive effect on mental health, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) health, and quality of life. So, cats and the elderly… the purr-fect partners?
A possible cure for loneliness?
We all feel lonely or isolated from time to time, but these feelings often worsen as we age. In the U.K., the Mental Health Foundation conducted a survey together with Cats Protection involving over 600 people. They found that 87% of cat parents felt their cat impacted positively on their well-being, and 76% said that the company of their feline friend helped them to cope better with daily life.
In another study, sharing your home with a cat was shown to significantly reduce levels of depressive symptoms and have a positive impact on anxiety and loneliness. Here’s a direct quote from the scientific publication:
Rieger and Turner (42) and Turner and Rieger (43) discovered that not only the mere presence of a cat in the household, but also interactions with the cat reduce measurable negative moods in the person, e.g., anxiety, depression, and introversion.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8044293/
So, how do cats have this beneficial effect on mood?
Loneliness is a major cause of depression in seniors. Cats can be great companions for the elderly since they are often happily curled up on a lap or co-sleeping on their pet parent’s bed. They are also relatively easy to care for; especially when compared with dogs.
In terms of exercise, they’re often able to take care of themselves. Indoor cats do require some extra playtime. With a cat pointer or swinging toy, this is easily manageable, even for the non-ambulatory.
Being a pet parent brings opportunities for socializing with people too. A trip to the veterinarian, or pet store to purchase supplies, can be a valuable trip out for someone feeling isolated.
Sense of Purpose
Being a cat parent is a responsibility, providing mental stimulation and a sense of purpose. It is thought that people who care for others or animals, also tend to take better care of themselves. The devotion between a cat parent and their cat brings motivation to get up and moving each day.
It is well known that having a daily routine is important for mental well-being. Having a cat can provide a daily routine for those in their golden years. Cats often appear like clockwork; they know exactly when breakfast and dinner times are! Feeding, playing, grooming, and even cleaning the litter box can all provide a routine for the day.
As you can see, there are many potential benefits to the mental wellbeing of sharing your home with a cat. Many of the claims are backed up by scientific research, although a lot more work is needed in this area.
Physical health benefits of cats for old people
Several studies have looked into the potential health benefits of owning a cat; focusing in particular on cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) health; cancer and dementia. Having a cat helps to improve general fitness too. Simple acts like grooming, playing, and changing litter boxes can provide a work-out for elderly people. Gentle, regular exercise is important in arthritis; so it can also help to keep arthritic joints in the hands moving.
Sadly, heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the US, and worldwide. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association tells us that some studies have found pet ownership can lower blood pressure. The same review describes studies that have found lower resting heart rates and better responses to stress in pet parents.
Cancer is another leading cause of death worldwide. There are studies looking at whether pet ownership reduces the risk of some cancers, but there is not yet enough evidence here. However, cat ownership may provide benefits to those undergoing cancer treatment. A couple of studies have found that patients who had interactions with pets reported improved feelings about their health and decreased depressive feelings.
A review of articles on animal therapy for elderly patients affected by dementia showed a better ability to cope with everyday life, as well as to communicate.
So, although more research is needed in this area, there are many potential health benefits of having a cat for an elderly person.
What is the right cat for seniors?
There are some practical things to consider when adopting a cat as a senior. Certain cat breeds are known to have a more fiery temperament than others. You may also find it good to know that male cats are generally more easy-going than females.
As we get older our skin becomes thinner and more easily wounded. Since cats can sometimes overstep boundaries, temperament becomes a very important factor when selecting a cat as a senior.
Tip: Blankets over your lap can help prevent accidental injury when your feline friend suddenly tries to jumps off!
Older cats for older people
Elderly cats are often the best choice for older pet parents, for a number of reasons: they tend to be calmer in temperament, already litter trained, and more content cuddling and sleeping on your lap. On the other side of the coin, elderly cats are more prone to common health problems like chronic kidney disease. So cost, and more importantly, the ability to pay for pet insurance will play a part. Being able to transport the cat to a veterinary clinic when needed is also important; whether through a friend, relative, or pet transport company.
Adoption is often a good option for senior pet parents. Some rescue centers will even provide financial support for elderly cats that they rehome. These centers can also offer the peace of mind and reassurance that they will look after your cat again, should something happen to you.
So, if you’ve been wondering what are benefits of cats for old people, or why cats are good for seniors, hopefully you have found the answer here! There are many potential benefits, both healthwise and for mental well-being. I am sure the benefits are mutual too! A warm loving lap to curl up on, and a pet parent who is home most of the day, make for a cat’s dream home.