By Larissa Jester
Pet owners know and love the way Whiskers whirls around your legs when you return home from work, or the way that Buster barks and wags his tail to greet you at the door.
While pets make great companions for young and old alike, they can also be an important part of your overall physical, mental and social well-being as you age because having dogs improves owners’ health, happiness.
Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
Sharing your life with an animal has been proven to lower blood pressure, cimproveol, triglycerides and feelings of loneliness, reports the Center for Disease Control.
For older adults especially, animals also offer a steady source of companionship. If your pet requires regular exercise, this translates directly to increased exercise for you and may also lead to socialization. Whether you’re mingling with the other Jack Russell owners at the dog park or talking to strangers curious about your cat or rabbit going for a leash walk, you’ll learn that people who love pets adore talking to others about their pets.
Exercise Keeps you Healthy
On a chilly, rainy day, staying inside becomes more attractive than taking that after-lunch walk. When you have a pet, you’ll need to walk it no matter the weather. Even a 6-minute walk five times a week was proven to have health benefits for older adults.
Socialization Combats Loneliness
Exercise isn’t the only way to socialize with your pet. Patronizing animal-friendly restaurants, attending pet training classes or joining online communities for pet lovers also allow you to socialize with other pet lovers. Increased socialization may prevent or mitigate the onset of loneliness and social isolation that often accompanies aging.
Emotional Support Alleviates Stress
Some animals just seem to know when you’re down. They snuggle up to you and put their head in your lap. Petting them helps you feel better after a bad day. Not only do pets give you unconditional love and support, but they can also instill a sense of purpose, especially for older adults who may be retired. Particularly as you age and face a move to a senior living community, look for opportunities to keep pets in your home. Emeritus senior living communities offer pet-friendly housing, for example, which can help to ease the transition to a new living situation.
Animals Improve Heart Health
The health benefits pets offer — lowered blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides — translate directly to a healthier heart, explains the National Institute of Health and the CDC. While these benefits can directly reduce your risk of heart attack, even pet owners who have suffered heart attacks report faster recoveries than those without pets in the home.
Pet ownership can prolong your lifespan and your happiness. While dogs and cats may receive the most media attention, they are not the only types of pets to offer health benefits for older adults. Fish, birds, guinea pigs, chickens, mice, iguanas and rabbits have all proven to have a positive effect on physical and mental health. The benefits far outweigh any inconvenience that comes with caring for them.
Larissa Jester is a vet tech who has three dogs of her own. She loves to write about animal care and environmental issues.