Having a dog as a pet provides seniors with great motivation to get out and get moving, but studies prove that the benefits of pet ownership don’t stop there.
A University of Michigan poll on healthy aging shows that the social connection that comes with pet ownership promotes well-being in seniors. All varieties of pets offer a built-in buffer against loneliness – a feeling that can lead to the development of serious mental and physical conditions. Pets are a great addition to an older adult’s life, providing companionship and a sense of security.
The top seven benefits of pet ownership
1. Pets provide companionship and can help reduce feelings of loneliness.
Loneliness leads to many physical and mental health issues, such as depression and even early mortality. Companionship is a key factor in living well and staying mentally and physically healthy. Many studies show that pet companionship can reduce feelings of loneliness and the health complications associated with it.
2. Pets can help reduce stress levels.
Whether it’s from going on regular walks or having a reliable friend, seniors with pets routinely have less stress than their non-pet-owning friends. Pets provide assurance that things are okay, and an animal companion can be an excellent distraction from negative thoughts.
3. Pets can help improve mood.
Pets, especially expressive ones like dogs and cats, seem to give unconditional love. No matter what you’re thinking or going through, a pet looks to you for attention and responds with affection. Just playing with a dog has been shown to release feel-good chemicals in the brain, lifting a pet-owner’s spirits.
4. Pets can help increase socialization.
It can be hard to meet new people, especially after a significant life change, but pets are a great icebreaker. Studies show that pets act as catalysts for human social interactions, which tends to result in a sense of community.
One study of adults over age 50 found that frequent dog walkers were more likely to report a high sense of community in addition to the benefits of increased physical activity. In independent living communities, pet lovers regularly gather to walk their dogs or just socialize with others who share their love of animals.
5. Pets can provide a sense of purpose.
Caring for a pet gives structure and meaning to daily life – if you don’t feel like getting out of bed, your pet still needs you to. Maintaining a healthy routine and daily structure has been shown to improve health and wellness.
We all benefit from responsibility and routine, and this benefit can’t be overstated for older adults. A sense of purpose is critical to successful living, including eating well, taking medications and staying active. Animal-assisted activities and pet ownership have been linked to greater life satisfaction and decreased depression after retirement.
6. Pets can help improve physical health.
Among seniors who own pets, those who are regular dog walkers enjoy the biggest health boost. Positive effects include lower body mass index, fewer reported doctor visits and less sedentary time.
Not ready for long walks? You can still benefit from pet ownership. Health benefits can come from simply getting outside with a pet, not just from logging extra miles. In fact, those who walked their dog farther in a shorter amount of time were less likely to be closely bonded to their pets. Closely bonded pet owners stop to talk to others about their pets and allow their dog leisurely time to sniff around and meet other dogs – all of which are beneficial.
7. Pets can provide emotional support.
It’s clear that pets promote wellness in older adults, and not just because pets give them a reason to go outside. Pets live in the present and don’t worry about tomorrow. This helps owners focus on finding joy in the moment, rather than problems like physical limitations. Pets also offer unfailing friendship that isn’t complicated or dependent upon other people’s moods or actions.
Planning for pet ownership
At all ages, having a pet takes some planning. Owners need to consider who will care for a pet in the event of a sudden illness – for both the owner and the pet. As people age, their pets age along with them, and older pets are vulnerable to the same health concerns as humans. They may develop arthritis, and their sight and hearing can fade. For pet owners with mobility issues themselves, a large dog with hip problems might not be a good match.
Consider the following questions to determine if a pet could be good for you or an older adult you know.
- Have you had a pet before? Experienced pet owners make the best candidates. If you’re not pet-experienced, how open are you to change? Those who are set in their ways sometimes struggle to adopt an animal into their daily routine.
- What age pet is appropriate? Puppies and kittens are adorable, but they also require more intense care and training. It’s important to consider that some animals, like certain birds, have long life spans. Older pets are often already trained and make wonderful companions.
- Do you have a disability or mobility issue? Dogs make wonderful additions to many lives, but they may pose challenges to those with limited mobility. If the responsibility of taking a dog outside regularly seems overwhelming, consider a lower-maintenance pet like a bird or cat.
- What temperament will be compatible? When you’re ready to adopt a pet, it’s important to consider the different characteristics and behaviors of different breeds. Spend some time interacting with them first to make sure the pet is a good fit. Many animal shelters allow prospective adopters to visit several times to interact with their future friend. Some even offer reduced adoption fees for older pets and adopters age 55+.
- Are finances a concern? Pets are a substantial long-term financial commitment. A puppy can cost over $800 for food, medical care, toys and grooming in its first year. The cost of taking care of a fish is lower. Consider your budget before bringing any animal home.
Bringing a pet home to Holiday by Atria
At Holiday, we understand the important role pets play in our lives and welcome them into our senior living communities. Rover is family – and we’re all about family.