Pet lovers already know that interacting with animals adds companionship, comfort, and meaning to our lives. But science says that owning a pet is good for you, too! Research on human-animal relationships is fairly new, but recent studies indicate that pets provide a variety of mental, physical, and emotional health benefits to humans, ranging from lowered blood pressure to reduces chances of loneliness and depression.
In honor of National Pet Month, we’re celebrating the incredible benefits of pets for people of all ages, particularly for older adults. Here are just some of the many ways that animals enhance our lives.
Encourage calmness and serenity
Bonding with a furry friend is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety. In fact, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia found that just 15 minutes of stroking or petting a dog or cat prompts the release of “feel good” hormones like dopamine and serotonin while decreasing levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The study found that petting your dog or cat also has a soothing effect on the animal, too.
A pet can be a supportive, comforting day-to-day companion, especially for older adults living alone. Taking care of an animal helps to eliminate boredom and isolation, keeping us active and engaged with a daily routine. Pets can also facilitate increased social activity. For example, taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood or to the local dog park can lead to new friendships with other animal lovers. If you find it difficult to get out and about, a pet can give you more self-confidence and serve as a wonderful icebreaker when meeting new people.
Increase mobility and independence
Looking after a pet can also help older adults maintain better mobility, which in turn can help them stay independent for longer. Between dishing out food, cleaning up after messes, and daily walks, owning a dog can be a great source of exercise! Animals can also provide assistance that helps older adults remain more independent. For example, dogs can provide safety and security by helping to ward off potential burglars. Some pets can be trained to alert older adults with hearing loss to sounds such as smoke alarms, doorbells, or ringing telephones. Licensed service dogs help seniors with disabilities walk and open doors, and some can even prevent or respond to falls, or detect health emergencies such as oncoming seizures.
Promote health and wellness
Spending time with animals may also provide powerful physical health benefits for older adults. One study found that interacting with dogs helps to lower blood pressure and heart rate levels, which in turn leads to health benefits like lower cholesterol and reduces chances of heart disease and stroke. Being around animals is also known to improve our immune systems, protecting us against common illnesses and allergies. Overall, pets can help us live better, healthier lives.
If your idea of a perfect retirement involves spending time with animals, you’re in luck! Many of today’s retirement living communities are pet-friendly and allow residents to own a cat or dog (or birds and fish!) as long as they meet the community’s criteria. Some retirement communities, like Bethany Village, also host pet therapy programs, in which licensed therapy animals and volunteers visit the community to interact with residents. The highly-trained dogs, cats, and rabbits make a big difference in the lives of older adults, giving them a chance to bond with animals without the daily responsibility of taking care of a pet.