Jump to content

Dog Therapy As Good Medicine For Seniors


Specializes in Whole Health and Behavioral Health.

How does dog walking lead to better self-care and disease prevention?

Animal therapy, especially the use of dogs, is one of the most rapidly growing, popular alternative modalities for senior mental and physical health.

Dog Therapy As Good Medicine For Seniors

One of the most popular and rapidly growing alternative modalities to help seniors retain their health and prevent the development or progression of both physical and mental conditions, is Animal Therapy. Dogs are the leaders in providing the succor and outcomes that are well documented on senior interaction with our animal friends.

A study out of the University of Pittsburgh, published in the Journal of Pain Medicine, demonstrated that the presence of a dog in an older individual’s life can help to significantly reduce physical pain as well as emotional distress.

There is little debate that physical exercise and healthy nutrition is essential to maintaining health and well-being at any age, especially the senior years. However, the addition of dog therapy can also be a tremendous addition to any senior’s self-care and disease prevention plan.

Dog Walking Takes Us Steps toward Better Health

As an educator in The 5 Aspects of Whole Health™, developed by the National Institute of Whole Health, I enjoy using these 5 aspects to identify the benefits of various approaches to health and wellness.

1 - The Physical Benefits

On the physical side, having a dog provides a mandatory reason and motivator for a senior to get outside and walk. There is also the physical movements of feeding and providing water every day for your pet. These activities all contribute to lower blood pressure and fewer occurrences of chronic health conditions, like obesity and diabetes.

In fact, a University of Missouri study showed that walking a dog regularly can lead to a lower body mass index. This can positively contribute to overall health and help prevent conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Seniors in the study who walked their dog also reported fewer doctor visits.

2 - Emotional Benefits

The emotional component of pet ownership, especially for single seniors, either at home or in an assisted living facility, is critical. Having a dog is a major winner in the battle against loneliness as well as the loss of purpose many seniors feel after retirement or after a major illness. Taking care of a pet can provide a focused purpose and important reason for getting up, dressed and moving each and every day.

3 - Environmental – Social

Dogs have long been a known attraction for singles to meet one another and in the same way dogs provide seniors with the social benefits of how to meet others through dog walking or pet play dates. Seniors can make friends or enhance their social activities by having a pet, especially dogs as they are walked daily, without feeling awkward or shy as so much of that activity is about their beloved pet and meeting others who share their enthusiasm for “pet parenthood”.

4 - Chemically and Nutritional

As we age our cognitive health and depth of memory can be effected. Much research is showing that having a pet in our later years can greatly reduce stress and the nutrition deficiencies stress can cause. Pet ownership can also strengthen brain function and extend our memory. According to Dr. Penny B. Donnenfeld. “I’ve seen those with memory loss interact with an animal and regain access to memories from long ago,” the psychologist explains. “Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than their physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging.”

5 - Spiritual

Experiencing a shared life and purpose with our animals, dog ownership connects us to the inter-dependence of our humanity and promotes a sense of belonging and being loved that enhances our relationship with ourselves and others.

Recognizing the Connection

The established correlation between pet ownership and better health now has assisted-living communities allowing and even encouraging pet ownership.

For seniors who do not want to take on the responsibility of owing a pet or are not in a living situation that allows for pet ownership, many senior facilities have created programs which have various rescue organizations that brings dogs into facilities during week days for residence to enjoy “pet therapy” and companionship.

Dogs have long been considered “man’s (humans) best friend” – maybe this is even truer in our advanced years. Having the love and companionship of a four-legged best friend is proving to be not only enjoyable, but also good medicine.


ScienceDaily: Senior adults can see health benefits from dog ownership

National Center for Biotechnology Information: Animal-assisted therapy at an outpatient pain management clinic

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Older Adults

19 Articles   62 Posts

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

8 Comment(s)

Koodos for this article. I recently moved in with my mostly independent 86 year old mother. She is more physically active after having my dog in the house for sure. Thanks for the article.

Dr Georgianna Donadio, PhD

Specializes in Whole Health and Behavioral Health.

Hello homeopathylover,
Thanks for your comment and happy to hear your mother is doing well with your dog. They are amazing "angels among us" and
its wonderful to see how they are now getting recognized for their healing qualities!
Kind regards,

jeastridge, BSN, RN

Specializes in Faith Community Nurse (FCN).

What are your thoughts about dogs in the hospital?

Dr Georgianna Donadio, PhD

Specializes in Whole Health and Behavioral Health.

Hello jeastridge,

More and more therapy dogs and emotional support animals are being used in many hospitals. They are effective with young and old alike and are a "trend" that is being considered around the country. They provide comfort, emotional support and companionship. With loneliness as the number one concern for health, wellness and recovery, animals can provide a natural, inexpensive solution.

Here is a link to an article you may find interesting about the subject. I found it
uplifting and hopeful for bringing the experience of whole person care into the hospital and medical settings.


Thank you for sharing your comment,

Kind regards,



Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 44 years experience.

My 85yo Dad spoiled my brothers dog who lived in apartment behind him. Wherever Dad went, dogs would find him as he kept milk bones in his pocket. Know it helped to extend his life.

Assisted living and dementia units having success with animal robotic companions too.  No food, walking or vet bill required.



Dr Georgianna Donadio, PhD

Specializes in Whole Health and Behavioral Health.

Thanks for sharing Karen! What a lovely concept - pet robots!!
We all need companionship and someone or something to give our love to
so that sounds like a really great idea!

Thanks again,
Warm regards,


Specializes in Vents, Telemetry, Home Care, Home infusion. Has 44 years experience.

Georgianna found this 12/2019 article in Home Care Magazine:

Robotic Pets’ Potential to Relieve Patient Loneliness & Caregiver Stress


...Clinical studies have been conducted regarding the role of robotic pets in combating social isolation, loneliness and all forms of dementia in older adults. According to a study published by James Madison University, “the use of robotic companion cats enhances the well-being and quality of life of individuals with dementia … by providing companionship and interaction with their environment, which helps to reduce anxiety and agitation.”

Volunteer Pet Assisted Therapy Dogs have been used successfully in Children's Hospitals too

Paws Across Texas

Therapy Dogs International

“Tail Waggin’ Tutors”  developed to allow children to read to dogs -non threatening environment. Helps to increase their self esteem.  Could be expanded to Senior Centers.

Dr Georgianna Donadio, PhD

Specializes in Whole Health and Behavioral Health.

Thanks again Karen!
Happy Holidays-