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Furry Friends: Five Reasons for Seniors to Have a Pet

Author: Jackie Muhlethaler

Updated: 05/03/2019

Anyone who has owned and loved a pet knows that their lives would not be the same without their furry friend. For seniors, a pet can be a life-changing addition as they age, and the benefits don’t stop at having a sweet animal to love. Here are five reasons why seniors should consider getting a pet, and how to choose the one that’s right for you.

 

Pets improve physical health

With age often comes varying health problems. High blood pressure, diabetes, pain and other health concerns can increase as we get older. Surprisingly enough, pets can be a great help with some of these health problems. A study from the American Diabetes Association that pets, especially dogs, can begin acting differently when they sense their owner’s blood sugar is getting low. Many organizations even offer trained dogs to sense and alert their owners when blood glucose levels are unsafe. Studies have also shown that having a pet can lower pain and blood pressure levels. When animals are around consistently, a person’s stress levels decrease, which can help alleviate pain as well as lower blood pressure levels. Even with the great health benefits that pets can provide, it’s important for seniors to continue to take their medication, and if they ever have trouble remembering to do so, they can use a medical alert system that can send medication and refill reminders.

 

Pets aid with mental wellness

Owning a pet can not only relieve and reduce physical pain, but can also aid in helping mental pain and suffering. Many studies have been done by government agencies, hospitals and other organizations to determine the effects of pets on the mental well-being of people, especially seniors. An article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH), outlined some of the mental health benefits seniors can gain from pet ownership. When different types of pets were introduced during these studies, the results showed significant improvements in the overall mental health of seniors.

Animals lowered signs and symptoms of depression and loneliness in seniors when they were able to pet, play and walk or care for them. Pet interaction also showed improvements in seniors with dementia and schizophrenia. Patients were more comfortable interacting with others socially when dogs were present and had decreased signs of agitation and anxiety. Having companionship to lean on while home alone can increase the quality of life and provide improvements in mood and overall mental health of aging seniors.

 

Pets promote active lifestyles

A third benefit of owning a pet is a greater motivation and need for exercise. Dogs and cats alike can be taken for walks, and dogs will especially need to receive the most physical activity. When physical fitness is increased through walks, hikes or even running, there are countless number of benefits for the senior and dog alike. Physical activity of any level, especially for aging adults, is important for weight loss and maintenance, blood pressure levels, heart health and mental wellness, along with many other benefits.

Physical fitness can provide a hobby for seniors as well, and being able to have a companion alongside you can be a great motivator. Family members and seniors alike can be sure that they are safe when out for walks, runs or hikes with their pet with medical alert systems that support GPS tracking. These medical alert GPS systems can be life-saving for pets and seniors alike, with updates on the exact location of the senior to both you and your loved ones’ phones, and the ability to contact authorities if seniors run into trouble (no pun intended).

 

Pets build relationships and community

Pets can also provide seniors a way to meet new people who have pets too. The number of dog parks in the U.S. has increased by 20% in the last five years as more people have decided to own dogs. There are cat cafes and other cat-themed places to go and interact with other animal lovers, and more and more restaurants and coffee shops are pet friendly. With so many options out there for animal lovers of all kinds, seniors can bring pets of almost any kind into many social interactions and even become part of a greater pet-loving community. Pets are conversation starters, with people wanting to interact with our furry friends when seen out and about.

Dog parks are known for the community it fosters, bringing dog lovers together while their pets play with each other. Friendships can be formed by visiting a dog park and getting to know some of the other owners. Even if you can’t get to a dog park, taking a walk through your neighborhood or in your community is a great way to interact with neighbors and get to know others in a deeper way. Friendship and relationships with other people are important at any age, and pets can give seniors another avenue to foster old friendships and create new ones.

 

Pets provide companionship and protection

A fifth reason seniors should consider getting a pet is for companionship and protection at home. If seniors live by themselves, the days can be lonely. Pets provide at-home companionship for seniors and can provide comfort at every level through their unconditional love. Taking care of a pet on a daily basis can give anyone a sense of purpose and duty, and seniors who live on their own can have that immediate connection in daily life. Pets, especially dogs, can also be a security measure for many seniors. Dogs can alert their owners if something wrong such as a break-in. Animals have even been known to alert their owners before a natural disaster occurs.

If seniors are able to purchase therapy or service dogs, they can help make daily activities more simple and easier to manage and can even help alert their owner when a medical issue is about to occur. Of course, dogs cannot call emergency responders in the event of a serious issue, but they can be a vital help. The best way to ensure medical safety for seniors living at home is with a medical alert system. These systems can not only save a senior’s life, but can also help with daily activities such as reminders and advice from health care providers. Medical alert systems can even come with additional security measures, which can protect seniors who live on their own from serious disasters and break-ins.

 

What to consider before choosing a pet

There are some important things to keep in mind when picking out a pet to take home and care for. First, prospective pet owners, especially seniors, should consider their activity level and mobility. If you are not able to walk long distances or are relatively immobile, getting a dog that requires a lot of exercise and activity may not be the best option for you. Instead, consider getting a smaller dog that is relatively low maintenance, or a cat, which typically doesn’t require much work to care for. Another important factor is space and access to places for a pet to run around in. If the space in which you live is smaller, it may be better to get a smaller pet, including cats, small dogs, or even rabbits or birds.

Access to an area for highly active pets to run or play in is also very helpful, so ensure that if you choose an active dog that you are able to take it for walks, a dog park or other fenced in areas to play in. A final aspect to think about when deciding the type of pet to get is the age of the pet, breed and where it is from. As cute as puppies and kittens are, they require constant attention and care for at least the first six to nine months, and can be difficult to handle or train. Adopting an older pet that is already trained or is relatively well-behaved may be the preferred option for seniors, rather than having to deal with the drama that a baby animal can often bring.

It’s also important to consider the breed of pet that you choose. If you, your family or other regular visitors are allergic to certain breeds or animals, it may be better to choose a hypoallergenic dog or cat. Finally, adopting a dog, cat or other pet can be an incredibly loving gesture and can save an animal’s life. Just ensure that you are fully aware of their history and are prepared to handle some of the challenges that can arise with animals that have had difficult pasts.

Ultimately, having a pet can be one of the greatest joys in life, and rest assured that your pet will love you unconditionally. Know that with a pet, you also have a responsibility to stay well in order to care for it. Living as active and healthy a lifestyle as possible, taking care of any health issues, and even getting a medical alert system are important not just for you, but for your pet’s well-being as well. Without you, your pet would be without the one they love most, and a medical alert device can help prevent that from happening.

 

Sources

“Dog Parks Lead Growth in U.S. City Parks”. The Trust for Public Land. 04/15/2015. Washington, D.C. https://www.tpl.org/media-room/dog-parks-lead-growth-us-city-parks#sm.00000fe9qpk8rxeyzx1ru6y6n0mk0

Hodai, Beau. “Study: Dogs improve health of their human companions.” 01/23/2007. https://www.naturalnews.com/021483.html

Cherniack, E Paul and Ariella R Cherniack. “The benefit of pets and animal-assisted therapy to the health of older individuals” Current gerontology and geriatrics research vol. 2014 (2014): 623203.

Dogs4Diabetics. https://dogs4diabetics.com/meet/our-story/

McMahon, Kevin R. “Nursing home therapy dogs: courage givers, door openers and conversation starters.” McKnight’s Longterm Care News & Assisted Living. 05/11/2009. https://www.mcknights.com/blogs/guest-columns/nursing-home-therapy-dogs-courage-givers-door-openers-and-conversation-starters/