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Do Pets Make Seniors Healthier?

Do Pets Make Seniors Healthier?

February 06, 2014

It’s no secret that people love their pets, but did you know that a four-legged friend may help improve your health as well? Studies have proven that animal companions can contribute to better physical and mental well being, particularly among older adults who are living in retirement communities. From reducing stress to encouraging exercise, there are a number of benefits that a pet can provide.

Senior Woman petting dog

More than just friends

Although people have been living with animal companions for thousands of year, scientists only recently began studying the effects that pet ownership can have on an individual’s health.

“When you see how long we’ve had pets in our lives, and how important they are to us today, I think it’s amazing that the study of human-animal interactions is still so new,” said Dr. Sandra Barker of Virginia Commonwealth University, as quoted by the National Institutes of Health. “Researchers have only recently begun to explore this wonderful relationship and what its health benefits might be.”

According to Barker, animal companionship has been linked to boosting a person’s cardiovascular health, including moderating his or her blood pressure and heart rate. Animals such as dogs that need to go outside and require daily walks encourage their owners to get regular exercise. These benefits have also been noted during periods of stress, and can contribute to decreasing the symptoms of anxiety in older adults.

Pets benefit mental health, too

For people who experience mental conditions such as depression, owning a pet or interacting with an animal companion on a frequent basis has also shown positive results. According to the NIH, animal companionship has been linked to diminishing negative emotions related to the disorder, including feelings of loneliness or persistent sadness. It has also been associated with helping seniors become more confident and comfortable when socializing with others.

As people age, they may require extra help to take care of their daily needs. Pet ownership can help combat feelings of dependency by giving seniors added responsibilities. Feeding, walking, brushing and caring for their pet in other capacities can remind seniors that they are needed and contribute to building their sense of self-worth.

Finding the right pet
Experts at the University of Rochester Medical Center recommend that people thinking of adopting an animal take several considerations into mind before making any moves. One of the first questions to ask is whether you’re prepared for the responsibilities that a pet entails. This includes both financial costs – such as bedding, food and veterinary bills – and the physical requirements of your desired animal companion. A person with limited mobility, for instance, would probably not want to adopt a high-energy dog that needed long, daily walks. Similarly, it may be wise to speak with a doctor about how having a pet at home could negatively affect conditions such as allergies or lung disease, which could be triggered by dander. 

Having a disorder does not necessarily bar a person from bringing home an animal companion, but they may be advised to consider pets that are less intensive in terms of their needs. For instance, a cat could require less daily upkeep than a dog, but offer an equal amount of affection. Another option that benefits both seniors and animals is adopting an older pet. Such animals often face difficulty finding a home with families who want a more energetic companion, but their calm, soothing demeanor is perfect for a retirement setting.

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