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A passion for pets pays healthy dividends to older Americans

by Emily Koelsch | Contributor
August 10, 2020

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Pets offer important benefits for everyone, but their companionship and unconditional love are particularly beneficial for seniors. The health benefits of pet ownership are well documented, and pets offer both mental and physical benefits to seniors. And, since seniors can benefit from a variety of different pets, there are plenty of options to make it easy to find the right type of pet for your interests and lifestyle.

What are the benefits of having a pet?

Many people think of pets as offering companionship and love, but fewer appreciate the many documented health benefits that come from pet ownership. Pets can help lower your blood pressure, relieve stress, combat loneliness, ease depression, encourage activity, provide a sense of meaning and offer a sense of security.

The many benefits of pet ownership have been long documented. In 1980, Dr. Erika Friedman conducted a study on the effect that pets have on heart disease patients. Her co-researcher, Dr. Katcher, summarized a portion of their results by concluding, “the presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival … not just for lonely or depressed people, but everyone – independent of marital status and access to social support from human beings.”

Similarly, a Mayo Clinic study looked at a group of 1,000 people between the ages of 25 and 64 and found that of those with a healthy heart, almost half owned a dog. Additionally, a Harvard Medical School study found that dog owners have lower blood pressure, healthier cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease.

Data looking specifically at seniors with pets reaches similar conclusions. In a National Poll on Healthy Aging survey, 88% of respondents with pets said that their pets helped them enjoy life and 86% said that their pets made them feel loved. Additionally, another survey aimed specifically at older adults found that:

  • 95% of respondents reported that they spent time talking to their pets
  • 82% reported that their pets provided them with comfort in times of sadness
  • 65% said that petting their animal improved their mood
  • 57% reported that they shared their fears with their pets

It’s important to note that pets don’t only provide companionship and love, but they also give owners a sense of purpose and, in many cases, help to provide a daily routine. Additionally, pets help their owners to stay active and can even encourage owners to be more social, for example talking to others while taking a dog on a walk or going to a local dog park.

While the benefits of pet ownership are important for everyone, they are especially important for older adults, many of whom feel isolated, are in need of daily routines and structure, and benefit from having something positive to focus on and care for. The result is that pets provide mental and physical benefits for seniors and can help to lead to a healthier lifestyle and an improved quality of life.

What type of pets are best for seniors?

The good news is that there are many different pets that can provide seniors with these benefits. This means that there are plenty of options for all seniors, including those that are concerned about being responsible for lots of maintenance, worried about yard space, wanting to travel a lot, less mobile or worried about the costs of pet ownership. This means that finding the right pet simply means thinking about your interests and your ability to care for a pet. With that in mind, here are a few pets that are particularly good for seniors:

Dogs

Dogs are affectionate, adaptable and playful. And, when it comes to companionship, there are few things that compare to the companionship that dogs offer. Additionally, because dogs need to be regularly walked, they can help promote a healthier and more active lifestyle.

While there are many breeds that are good for seniors, breeds that are small and obedient can be particularly ideal. These breeds don’t need a large backyard, they’re easy to pick up and don’t pose mobility risks. Some of the best breeds for seniors include:

  • Shih tzus
  • Pugs
  • Poodles
  • Boston terriers
  • Yorkshire terriers
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniels
  • Chihuahuas
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Malteses
  • Pekingeses

In addition to looking for these breeds, some experts advise that adopting a calm, trained shelter dog is particularly ideal for older adults.

Cats

Cats provide companionship and are playful and affectionate. They can be an ideal pet for people with limited mobility who don’t want to have to take a dog on daily walk. Cats are very independent yet are also people focused. This means that they don’t require a lot of care but can offer lots of affection and love. Experts suggest that oftentimes female cats are more affectionate than males and note that short-haired cats are more independent and require less care than long-haired cats.

Birds

Birds can be a great way to bring some life, color and noise into your home. They are a good fit for older people who live alone and want to add some pleasant sounds to their house. Zebra finches and canaries are both small and colorful with especially relaxing noises. Parakeets are also a good option, as they’re a manageable size and have beautiful colors. Additionally, they’re social birds that need and provide companionship.

Fish

One goldfish in fish bowl

Fish are a good option for individuals who want a pet that’s easy to maintain, as there is little maintenance once the tank is properly set up. Plus, fish are known to provide relaxation through their smooth motions and pretty colors. Simply watching fish swim can help to reduce stress levels. As a result, this is a good, low-maintenance pet for seniors.

Geckos

While it might not be the first pet that comes to mind, some reptiles are also good pet options. Like fish, they are a low-maintenance pet that is enjoyable to watch and care for. Leopard geckos are a good choice for seniors as they’re small, make no noise and require little maintenance.

Rabbits

While rabbits are also less common, they can be great pets and companions. Rabbits use a litter box and enjoy being snuggled. They can live indoors or outdoors, although having an outdoor option is best for them. Many rabbits enjoy sitting in their owner’s lap and are a great source of companionship.

Is it possible to get the benefits of pet ownership without owning a pet?

Interestingly, there has been a rise in the popularity of robotic pets for seniors. These pets – generally either cats or dogs – look like real pets and mimic some of the behaviors of real pets. For example, they will meow or bark when you walk by, and you can even feel their heartbeat. And, the more that you pet them, the more they interact with you.

As a result, robotic pets are an increasingly popular way to help address the loneliness and feelings of isolation that many seniors experience. While they don’t offer all of the benefits of an actual pet, robotic pets can be a good alternative for adults that are unable to have or care for a live pet.

Conclusion

Pets offer companionship, love and sense of purpose while also helping to encourage a healthy lifestyle. As a result, they lead to well-documented health benefits for people of all ages and are especially beneficial for seniors. Whether you are able to walk a dog daily or prefer simply watching fish in a low-maintenance tank, it’s worth considering getting some type of pet to improve your overall well-being and long-term health.

Alliance America can help

Alliance America is an insurance and financial services company. Our financial professionals can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and achieving your future goals. We have access to an array of products and services, all focused on helping you enjoy the retirement lifestyle you want and deserve. You can request a no-cost, no-obligation consultation by calling (833) 219-6884 today.

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