Anyone who has ever stroked a dog’s soft ears or felt the gentle rumble of a cat’s purr knows the calming feeling an animal can offer.

Animals offer companionship and unconditional love; they can improve health and general well-being, especially in the older adult population.

The most serious problem for older adults is not disease; it’s loneliness. Elderly people, especially those living in residential care facilities, are at a higher risk for developing depression. When they are without a spouse or children around to keep them company, many seniors begin to feel isolated.

Studies have shown that companion animals have the ability to lift the spirits of people who live alone and provide unconditional friendship and enrichment.

Research studies have found that having a pet has significant benefits for seniors’ mental, physical, and emotional health — in other words, pets are good for your body and soul. Dogs are great for providing physical exercise, socialization, and overall day-to-day companionship. Getting out for a daily walk, or even just playing with a dog indoors, is an enjoyable form of activity, and seniors can choose a dog whose exercise demands are equal with their own needs and physical limitations.

With the increasing numbers of pet-friendly assisted living communities, more seniors than ever are able to keep their longtime companions with them in the next stage of their lives.

Alea Schliep, life enrichment coordinator from The Lodge in Sisters, told The Nugget a special story of how a lonely resident’s life turned around after adopting a small dog.

“A few years ago, when I was working at an assisted-living facility, I had a resident who became withdrawn. His wife had passed away and he was lonely. I had set up a field trip for the residents to visit a humane society and I was hoping this resident might connect with an animal. He really liked this one dog and adopted her that day. His life turned around. His behavior changed and he was happy again.”

She added, “Residents in a facility need that special animal waiting for them when they go back to their rooms after lunch, activities, or an outing. They become attached to a companion animal that brings them so much joy.”

Choosing the right dog for a senior can be a fun and enriching process. It starts with assessing the needs and wants of a prospective pet parent.

Some breeds require more exercise than others. If you’re fairly active, you may be able to handle a dog that needs lots of play-time and opportunities to run. But if you have mobility or stamina issues, you might want to choose a dog that is content with a few short walks. Some very small dogs may even be able to get all the exercise they need just by running around inside your home.

Smaller dogs are easier to keep under control and are more suitable for seniors living in condos, apartments, or care facilities. Small dogs can fit in your lap, are more portable than larger breeds, won’t physically overwhelm you and can be easily groomed in a sink. Keep in mind that some small dogs have lots of nervous energy and try to make up for their diminutive stature with plenty of barking.

Alternatively, docile larger dogs that don’t require a lot of maintenance may be a good choice.

Older dogs are better dogs for seniors to adopt than puppies that are super active and tend to chew and nip. Adult dogs are typically already housetrained and well-socialized with people. Mature dogs also tend to be the calmest dogs, with more predictable behavior patterns.

Dogs’ temperaments are influenced by the genes they are born with as well as the way they are brought up. While any dog can be raised to be friendly, some breeds are more naturally conditioned to be gentle and welcoming. Beagles, retrievers, poodles, and bulldogs are among the dogs that have the best temperament.

However, caring for a pet is not to be entered into lightly. It’s important for that right pet to be affordable to an older pet parent.

Since many seniors live on limited incomes, it’s essential to consider a pet parents ability to pay for their pet’s basic needs. Starting expenses include the adoption or purchase costs, spaying or neutering, vaccinations and a crate. Regular expenses will include food, toys, vet visits, medications and the possibility of grooming.

Even though pets are a source of joy for many older adults, the cost of care can be a strain for some seniors. If you’re having trouble paying for food, vaccinations, and veterinary care for your pet, there may be low-cost or free resources available in your community. Here’s how to find the help you and your pet need.

Kiki Dolson, founder of Furry Friends Foundation (FFF), estimates about 40 percent of the families that the nonprofit organization helps are seniors on fixed incomes.

She noted, “Many live alone and have one or two pets for companionship. By providing their pet’s monthly food and other pet supplies it adds extra dollars to their monthly budget. Furry Friends also helps with vaccinations and spay/neuter, all large-cost items for an individual on a fixed income. In that way we can help keep their pets healthy and in their homes.”

The Humane Society of the U.S. has a state-by-state list of financial-aid resources for pet owners. With some persistence you can keep your pets in the best possible health, even on a tight budget.