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“Let’s take a walk!” These four words set many tails wagging. And for seniors, having a dog is great motivation to get out and get moving. Good news: studies shows the benefits of pet ownership extend way beyond extra exercise. Owners of all varieties of pets have a built-in buffer against loneliness, staving off a cascade of negative physical and mental consequences.

 

Study after study proves the benefits of pet ownership. We know that older adults experiencing feelings of loneliness are at risk for serious mental and physical conditions, including early mortality. A new study shows that the social-connectedness that goes along with pet ownership promotes well-being, especially in seniors. Are you a senior living alone without a pet? You’re in the group most likely to struggle with loneliness. Senior living with a pet?  You’re 36% less likely to report loneliness![1] Sharing your home with a pet improves older people’s overall well-being. Consider the benefits: lowered blood pressure, reduced stress, lowered cholesterol, along with increased social interaction and physical activity.

 

What is it about the senior/pet connection that leads to a healthier life? One psychotherapist concludes that pets live very much in the present and don’t worry about tomorrow, and this in turn leads their owners to focus more on the moment and finding joy, rather than focusing on problems like physical decline. Another psychologist has witnessed animal ownership prompt better memory recall in elderly owners. Her theory is that it helps seniors focus on something other than physical problems or concerns about the future.[2]

 

Among seniors who own pets, those who enjoy the biggest health boost are those who regularly walk their dog. For many seniors, a dog is a great motivation to stay active. Positive effects included lower body mass index, fewer reported doctor visits and less sedentary time, according to The Gerontologist. Not a super physical dog owner? You can still benefit from pet ownership. Health benefits come to those who simply get outside with their pets, not necessarily those who log the most 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 allowed their dog leisurely time to sniff around, meet other dogs, and talk to other people about their dogs – all beneficial.

 

5 Reasons why pets and seniors are a great match:

  1. Companionship. Loneliness leads to a host of physical and mental problems, such as depression. Dogs are always available and, if you choose the right one (link to our paper about selecting the right pet), is more likely to bond with you. Intimidated by the thought of a large dog? Smaller dogs make portable friends.
  2. Routine. 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.
  3. Reduced stress. Maybe it’s the regular walks or the sense that you have a friend, but seniors with pets routinely have less stress than non-pet-owning friends.
  4. Exercise. Dog owners in particular can benefit in this category. Dogs need to get out regularly and meeting this need brings benefits to you, too.
  5. Making new friends. It can be hard to meet new people. Pets are a great ice breaker! Did you know that many independent living facilities allow pets? These pet lovers gather regularly to walk or just socialize. It’s all good!

At all ages, having a pet takes some planning. All owners must think about backup for pet care in the event of a sudden illness. As people age, their pets age along with them. The formula that dogs and cats age at a rate of seven human years per “dog year” isn’t exactly accurate, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. A seven-year-old dog compares to a human age 44-56 years. Three years later, that 10-year-old dog could compares in health to a 56- to 78-year-old human. As for felines, 15 cat years equates to 78 human years.[3]  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 who may be frail themselves, a big dog with hip problems might not be a good match. Check out the following Q&A list to determine if a pet is right for your senior.

 

  1. 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 very set in their ways may not be good candidates, because adopting an animal affects your daily routine.
  2. What age pet would be best? Puppies and kittens require more intense care and training, and they might outlive their owners. 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.
  3. Have any disabilities or limitations on mobility? Dogs make wonderful additions to many lives; however, they may post challenges to those with mobility limitations. If the responsibility of taking a dog outside regularly seems overwhelming, consider lower-maintenance pets like birds or cats.
  4. What temperament matches best? When considering adopting a pet, consider the different breeds’ characteristics, and spend some time interacting with them first. Also, many animal shelters allow prospective adopters to visit several times to interact with their future friend.Many offer reduced adoption fees for older pets and adopters age 55+.
  5. Are finances a concern? Pets are substantial long-term financial commitment. A puppy can cost $810 per year for food, medical care, toys and grooming in its first year.[4] A fish costs less. Consider your budget before bringing home any animal.
 

At Holiday Retirement we understand the important role pets play in our lives and welcome them into our independent living communities  as family. If you have a furry friend already, we can’t wait to meet them. If you’re thinking about getting a pet, we have some tips that will help you find the perfect one. Check out our quick guide to choosing a pet, where you’ll learn about everything from finding a suitable breed for your personality to good pets for people with mobility issues, and everything in between.