Pacifica Senior Living Blog

Pet Therapy: How Animals Can Help Seniors Thrive

Mar 22, 2023 11:58:55 AM / by Carly Dodd, Pacifica Senior Living

Animals play an amazing and important role in our lives. From working animals to household pets, therapy dogs, or farm animals, connecting with animals can have a profound impact on people. Pets, and animals in general, can bring out the best in us.

Pet and animal assisted therapy has many benefits, especially for older adults. Animal interactions provide a sense of unconditional love, tactile connections, and mental stimulation to seniors and residents of Senior Living communities.Pet therapy programs give older adults who may not be able to have their own pets the chance to interact with animals and gain the mental, psychological and physical health benefits of spending time with pets.

Why are Pets important for older adults?

The Importance of Pet Friendly Senior Living Accommodations:

Living in a pet friendly community is a great way for seniors to experience all the positives of having an animal around. Having a pet can help seniors feel needed, keep their brain engaged, and provide a constant friend and companion. Whether the pet is a service dog, therapy pet, or simply a companion, pets can help older adults stay fit physically and mentally.


Dogs in particular are great for keeping active, as they need walks and physical activity. Getting outside and going for a light walk is great for seniors’ cardiovascular health and joint health. The stimulation is also good mentally, as getting out and about - and having an animal that depends on them - helps give seniors a sense of purpose each day.

The majority of our senior living communities are pet friendly, so our residents can enjoy the benefits of having a pet around each and every day. Many of our communities allow dogs and cats, while others - like Healdsburg Senior Living - have community animals like ducks, chickens, and goats.  Pacifica Senior Living Peoria, even has beloved tortoises, Tank, Phoenix and Dash.

For those who opt not to have the full-time commitment of a live-in pet, our communities offer pet therapy sessions. We work with animal care providers to bring pets, service animals, and trained rescue animals to our communities and provide the chance for our residents without pets to interact with and enjoy the benefits of spending time with animals.

Social Benefits of Pets

The social benefits of pets go hand-in-hand with the mental health benefits. Pet therapy sessions offer a great chance for social interactions for seniors. The use of animals can help break down walls, allowing individuals to open up and form bonds with the animals and the other residents or handlers. 

Trained animals are a great source of socialization for seniors living in senior living communities. Usually these therapy initiatives take place in groups, where the seniors can take turns petting, cuddling, or playing with animals, creating meaningful connections. This is particularly important to help fight feelings of loneliness or isolation, which are more common in older adults.

Pet Therapy and Mental Health

Taking part in pet therapy programs can help boost mood and mental health. Animals are known to provide a sense of calm and relaxation, lower blood pressure, and create a sense of well-being. Interacting with pets has also been shown to boost endorphin levels and wellness. Animals inherently bring a sense of joy to everyone around them.

Therapy visits offer something for seniors to look forward to as well, and the joy and comfort they feel from spending time with the animals can boost self-esteem, brighten moods, and create connections with both animals and the animal handlers.

Cognitive Benefits of Pet Therapy

Human-animal bonds not only work to help our mental health and wellbeing, but spending time with pets has also been shown to help our brain and cognitive skills. For older adults, interacting with pet partners and pet therapy programs can provide mental and sensory stimulation, and also help improve both short term and long term memory. Pets have even been known to stir up memories and responses from individuals with severe dementia, drawing on childhood memories or muscle memories to form unspoken connections between the animals and seniors.

Obedience training and physical interactions with animals - even simply petting, giving treats, or brushing them - can also help improve motor skills and coordination. Assisting animal handlers with grooming and feeding is a great way to create positive interactions and keep motor skills sharp.


Pet Therapy At Pacifica Senior Living

Pet therapy has been used in health care facilities, nursing homes, senior living communities and therapy sessions for many years. Pacifica Senior Living has a number of Animal Assisted therapy providers which visit our communities. Each therapy team brings something different, but offers a chance for residents to build connections and spend time enjoying the company of loving animals.

We have partnerships and collaborations with a number of pet therapy providers across our communities, from kitten fostering to therapy dog visits, presentations from Lucky Ones Ranch and the Birds of Prey of Agua Hedionda Discovery Center, to miniature pony visits from Amazing Mini Miracles. We understand the importance of animal therapy and pets, and are always striving to enhance our residents’ experiences.

Reach out to your local community to learn more about pet therapy programs in your area, or come visit during our next pet therapy session! 

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Tags: Health and Wellness