The Benefits of Having a Pet
Over 79 million households in the United States own a pet of some kind. Pet ownership brings joy to those of all ages; a wagging tail greeting you after a long day makes you feel needed and loved and sharing quality time at the close of the day has a relaxing, calming effect. According to research, Baby Boomers are the second largest group of pet owners, just behind Millennials.
Wet kisses and unconditional love are just the beginning when it comes to the benefits of pets, especially people over the age of 55. From reducing depression and lowering blood pressure to giving you a wonderful, tail-wagging reason to get out of bed in the morning, numerous research studies have shown the positive impact. But before you rush out to find your new best friend, let’s take a closer look at what to expect and what you should consider about pet ownership.
Here are just a few reasons seniors should consider having a pet:
The physical benefits of owning a pet include:
- Motivation to Stay Active – A study published in The Gerontologist found that dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer daily activity limitations, and fewer doctor visits.
- Makes You Move – Other studies reveal that seniors who own dogs walk an average of 2.2 hours or more per week than those who don’t own a pet. Regardless of what type of pet you have, animals require you to move. Playing fetch, going for walks, scooping a litter box, and simply bending down to put food in a bowl or scratch behind the ears keeps you mobile.
- Lower Blood Pressure – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having a pet has the potential to lower blood pressure, especially in hypertensive or high-risk patients.
- Daily Routine – Helps establish and maintain a daily routine. Pets do require a certain level of commitment. Feeding, grooming, and exercising are all tasks that need to be completed on a daily basis. Establishing a daily routine, however, can help slow the aging process and provide a sense of purpose.
- Decreased Stress – A study at State University of New York at Buffalo found that when conducting stressful tasks, people experienced less stress when their pets were with them than even when a spouse, family member, or close friend was nearby.
- Pain Relief – Loyola University researchers found that the use of pet therapy while recovering from surgery helped people significantly rely less on pain medication.
There are mental and emotional benefits as well:
- Companionship – Social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day according to the AARP and living alone is one of the key risk factors. Having a pet can provide much needed companionship and give you more social opportunities – dog park anyone?
- Keeping Mentally Active – Initially you might think all that’s involved with taking care of a pet is a negative thing; however, it’s actually another way you can stay mentally active, which a growing body of research suggests could play a role in slowing memory decline.
- Purpose – During retirement years, many struggle to find the usefulness they once felt in their career or when raising a family. A pet can offer that purpose, and taking care of a pet can improve confidence and self-esteem.
- Living in the present – Pets live in the moment and have a way of keeping your focus right there with them.
Considerations for Pet Ownership over 55
The owner and pet relationship should be a two-way street with benefits all around, so it’s important to consider the following before making that commitment:
- Experience Owning a Pet – For people over 55, it’s usually best to have some experience with owning a pet before. That way it’s an easier lifestyle transition and you have a clearer understanding of what to expect.
- Activity Level – Puppies are certainly cute, but they need a lot of attention and exercise, much more so than older dogs or cats. And cats in general are more self-sufficient than dogs. If you have any disabilities or functional limitations, consider how much you could realistically take on.
- Allergies – This could potentially be a deal-breaker but there are dog and cat breeds known to be more hypoallergenic. Doing your research here beforehand would be well worth it.
- Temperament – There are some types of people you get along better with, and pets are the same way. Make sure to look at the characteristics of different breeds and their personalities.
- Finances – Pets can be expensive, from toys and food to supplies and vet bills, costs can rack up pretty quickly. And it’s not just the initial costs you need to consider; pets are a long-term financial commitment.
- Contingency Plan – Should you no longer be able to care for your pet, it’s crucial to have a plan in place for a family member or friend to step in so they’ll always have the loving home they deserve.
Having Pets in Senior Independent Living
There are many benefits to senior independent living communities – amenities, activities, convenience, peace of mind. What you may not know is that many of these communities are also pet friendly.
And the bonus is that some also offer assistance with dog grooming, walking, and/or other pet services, which can make the decision to become a pet owner even easier. Be sure to check with any senior independent living community you’re interested in for their specific pet policy. All True Connection Communities are pet friendly!
If you decide against pet ownership, you may still be able to regularly enjoy the benefits of animals in your senior independent living community. Many communities offer pet therapy programs where animals from rescues, animal shelters, or certified therapy dogs come in to visit with residents.
How to Find Your Purrfect Pet
If there’s a specific type of dog you’re interested in, breeders are certainly an option. There are also many wonderful animals looking for homes through local pet rescues and/or animal shelters, and the fees are often much more reasonable. Petfinder.com is a good place to begin your search and includes these groups as well. We’ve got more info on finding the best companion pet for you.
Not a dog person? Although cats often get a bad reputation, they are wonderful pets as well. They are loving, fun and loyal too! You might also consider fish or birds as well.
For more information on the benefits of pets in our senior independent living communities, which are all pet friendly, contact us today to schedule a visit →