Pets are an excellent addition to almost every home. Cats, dogs, birds, and more are prevalent among older adults. Some 55 percent of adults ages 50 and older have a pet, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging. This poll, conducted by the University of Michigan, found having a pet can promote positive aging.
10 Benefits of Pet Ownership for Older Adults
1. Purposeful living
Because they depend on their owners for food, exercise and affection, pets can contribute to purposeful living during retirement, when many people feel less valued. Purposeful living is when someone moves toward a goal that makes them happy and aligns with their values and passions. Pets certainly make people happy.
In the University of Michigan poll, 73 percent of respondents said their pets provided a sense of purpose. An impressive 88 percent of these pet owners said that their pets helped them enjoy life.
Pets provide constant companionship. Cats and dogs often like to be in the same room as their owners, and pets of all sorts enjoy attention from their owners. Many dogs are willing to accompany their owners to the store, visit friends, or ride along in the car.
Structure helps pet owners, because a daily routine reduces stress and anxiety, increases feelings of safety and security, and even enhances sleep. Dogs mold themselves to their owner’s routine. Cats stick to a schedule for feeding, playtime, and naps.
Getting regular exercise is essential at any age, but especially as we get older. Exercise helps improve strength, which helps older adults remain independent. The National Institute on Aging says physical activity also improves balance to lower the risk of falls, and injuries from falls. It also helps prevent or manage health conditions, such as arthritis, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.
Pictured: Resident Ginnie Belben walking her dog on the Deupree House campus.
Having a dog is a great way to make walking a regular part of daily life. Playing with a pet can also be an excellent way to get exercise, as picking up and throwing toys gives your upper body a workout.
According to Harvard Medical School, chronic stress can increase the risk of heart disease, heartburn, and many other health problems. Stress can increase blood sugar, worsen diabetes, create or increase high blood pressure, interfere with sleep, and cause anxiety, worry, depression, and frustration.
Science shows simply petting a dog can lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increase the feel-good hormone oxytocin. Reducing cortisol and increasing oxytocin can also keep blood pressure under control. Real-life experiences support this theory: Nearly 80 percent of respondents to the University of Michigan poll said having a pet reduced their stress.
6. Social interaction
Having a pet can expand opportunities for social interaction and making friends. Taking a dog to the groomers, for a walk, or to the park can spark conversation with other dog-lovers. Seniors can host “play dates” with their friends’ pets or start dog-walking clubs. Even taking a cat to the vet offers a chance to interact with others.
7. New interests
Having a pet can spark new and sometimes unexpected interests. Dog owners may take an interest in cleaning or expanding their local dog parks, for example, or enter a program where they take their dogs to the local hospital to cheer up patients.
Dogs can alert their owners to possible dangers, such as a stranger knocking on the door or walking through the yard. You don’t need a big guard dog: Any size pup can help older adults feel more secure.
9. A sense of responsibility for another life
Everyone wants to be valued, but many older adults feel less useful after their children grow up or their careers end. Providing care for another living thing can be very rewarding. A hungry pet is a great reason to get out of bed in the morning. And giving treats to a cat or dog is also satisfying.
A whopping 86 percent of respondents to the University of Michigan poll said their pets made them feel loved. That feeling may be the best reason older adults should consider adopting pets.
If you or a loved one are evaluating retirement options, consider a premier retirement community like Deupree House in Cincinnati. Our independent living services are ideal for residents who prefer to live life on their terms. One difference between this community and your home is the wide variety of programs and activities to participate in — if you choose — and our professional, compassionate staff. Contact us to learn more or schedule a tour.