For many people, pets are treasured members of the family. Dogs, cats and other types of household pets work hard to earn our esteem by serving as affectionate, protective, loyal and comical companions.
If you own a pet or have had one in the past, you know just how special and unique they can be — and what good company they provide. But did you know that for seniors, pets can help improve mental and physical health?
Research has found that seniors with pets are more active, handle stress better, and enjoy lower blood pressure and improved health overall compared to seniors who live without pets. What are some of the compelling ways in which your loved one can benefit from having a pet?
Pets encourage seniors to engage in a healthier lifestyle and be more active. Dogs especially require regular walks or hikes — which motivates their owners to move more and sit on the couch less. Research has found that individuals who own dogs have a higher likelihood of meeting the minimum requirements for exercise each day.
What about seniors who have mobility issues and can no longer get out and walk? They also benefit from having a pet around – even if someone else takes responsibility for the walking duties. Petting the animal and preparing food and water also constitute activity. Playing with a dog or cat — even indoors — can add up to significant exercise for someone who’s normally sedentary.
Just being around pets also seems to increase health benefits for seniors. Studies have shown that pet owners have lower blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and rates of depression, and individuals who have had a heart attack survive longer if they have a dog.
Structure and Purpose
Pets provide structure and routine, which can help seniors feel they have a purpose each day. By adhering to a pet’s regular schedule of eating, sleeping and going outdoors, the pet owner may be more motivated to sleep and eat regularly.
Seniors who adopt pets may seek out information on training and caring for the animal, providing intellectual stimulation. Dogs, cats, birds and other pets also live in the here and now — which can help seniors cope with anxiety about the future.
Love, Affection and Companionship
Caring for a pet can help seniors feel loved and needed. Pets also provide the opportunity for physical affection, and they can serve as support for individuals who do not live close to loved ones.
Dogs, cats and other pets can ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation, but they also provide opportunities for interacting with other people and striking up new friendships.
Choosing the Ideal Pet
Before adopting a pet, be sure your family member agrees and can take on the responsibility of caring for an animal. As you research the right type of pet, consider your family member’s past experience with animals, current living situation and mobility, along with the temperament and care needs of the pet.
Soon, you may start noticing positive changes as your loved one and the new pet begin to form a strong and lasting relationship.