Pets can truly be a joy in our lives. They’re a constant friend, a great way to keep the mind active, and a good excuse to get some exercise. In short, it’s hard not to already value the companionship of a pet.
Regardless of your age, owning a pet can be a wonderful experience and have positive impacts on both your physical and your mental health. That said, there are some benefits of pet ownership for seniors that you might be unaware of. In fact, there are several studies that indicate pets can have a very positive effect on livelihood and quality of life well into your golden years.
Here’s what you need to know about pets as companions:
Finding the Right Pet for You
While there are doubtless benefits to pet ownership, there are practical concerns you must first consider. Some animals, like dogs, need a great deal of activity to remain healthy. Of course, taking them for walks or to the dog park might be a great excuse for you to get some activity in. But for seniors with mobility issues or low energy, owning a pet that needs a lot of activity might be problematic.
If you’re set on a dog, research the breed first. Some dogs require less exercise and are in general more content to lay at your feet. If this temperament is preferable to you, take an opportunity to talk to dog owners who have owned the breed you are interested in. This first-hand account will be very useful for finding the right pup for you!
Cats are also a great option for prospective pet owners concerned about the activity required to keep dogs happy and healthy. They are more independent and require less hands-on care, while still offering companionship and something to think about and nurture.
There are plenty of pets besides dogs and cats to choose from as well! When making a choice, consider who is around to look after the pet if you need to go to appointments, or could use a little extra help with walks, feeding, or other pet-related activities.
Four Health Benefits of Having a Pet
Aside from just keeping us company and giving us something to do, pets also carry with them tangible health benefits. Here are some that are particularly important for seniors:
1 - Lowers Blood Pressure: There is mounting evidence to suggest owning pets positively impacts blood pressure — a key health concern for many seniors. A study published by the American Heart Association found that pet owners have lower blood pressures than non-pet owners, and their blood pressure tends to spike less when exposed to stressful situations.
In fact, other studies have suggested that merely petting a dog (or cat) can temporarily reduce blood pressure! Having a furry friend handy may very well be a heart-smart decision.
2 - Keeps You Active: Age appropriate physical activity, like going for moderate walks, is essential for maintaining your health and mobility as you age. But sometimes, it can be all too easy to find an excuse not to take a step outside when there’s plenty to do around the house, or if it’s a bit cold out. When you have a dog, there’s an always-present reminder to head outside so you can take your friend for a walk. Having a pet is an excellent excuse to keep active, get some fresh air, and keep mobile well into your golden years.
3 - Helps Your Mind Stay Active: As we’ve written about before, finding ways to keep your mind active is just as important as keeping your body active. One key to staying sharp in your senior years is to exercise your memory frequently, and having a pet is a great and practical way to do this. Has it been fed recently? When was the last time your furry friend had a bath? Is it almost time for a walk? Having an opportunity to use our short term memory often and for useful purposes will ensure it stays strong.
4 - Provides Emotional Support: One amazing thing about pets is how present they are. They help keep our mind on the here and now, and enjoy the moments as they happen without worrying about what’s to come. This makes them excellent emotional support companions who help stave off feelings of isolation, and give us an excuse to go outside and chat with the neighbors. As we get older, tending to our emotional wellbeing is very important for maintaining a high quality of life, and this might be the very best reason to consider pet ownership as a senior.
No matter what stage of your life you’re in, owning a pet can be a joyful experience. And for seniors, this companionship can bring with it a myriad of health benefits. Finding the right pet for your lifestyle is important, so make sure to ask around and do some research before committing, and talk to people who’ve owned a similar pet before.
Most importantly, finding the perfect pet companion will combat loneliness and help you with your emotional well-being. If you’re looking to make the most of your senior years, consider adding a furry friend to your life!