People have pets for many reasons. But beyond providing healthy companionship for people of all ages, including older adults, research is suggesting that having or even interacting with animals could improve your health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says owning a pet can improve your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. And a National Institutes of Health-funded study found that dog owners who had suffered heart attacks were far more likely to be alive a year later than heart-attack patients who didn’t have dogs.
Dog owners may get more exercise and other health benefits as well. Studies also show that older dog walkers have greater mobility inside their homes than those without canine pets. In addition, having a dog has proven to help you make more human friends and have an enhanced outlook on life.
Health Benefits From All Types of Pets
It isn’t just dog pets that prove beneficial to your health. According to several studies, watching your fish swim around in their tank or taking the time to pet your affectionate cat can actually help to lower blood pressure and thereby reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Pets can also provide emotional support and ease the feeling of isolation, which some older Americans battle with regularly.
Pet Care & Responsibility
While there are many health benefits to having a pet, they come with responsibility. Pets require care and attention, so be sure you can devote the time and have the means to provide for a finned, feathered, or four-legged friend, both physically and financially. If you do wish to adopt a pet, here are a few tips:
- Identify your reasons for wanting a pet. This can help you decide what type or breed would make the best fit for you.
- Consider activity level and temperament–both yours and your potential pet’s. Adult dogs or cats may be calmer and easier to take care of than puppies or kittens. Dogs will require daily walks, with the amount of exercise needed varying by age, breed and temperament. Also, all dogs need basic grooming, but some may require advanced routine grooming.
- Keep your local shelter in mind. Adopting from an animal shelter or rescue group has many advantages. Besides having a great selection of animals for adoption, some shelters may provide a special program or discounted adoption rates for older Americans. Visit Petfinder or AnimalShelter.org to look for available animals in your area.
But what if you either cannot keep a pet due to housing or other restrictions, or do not want the responsibility? Visiting friends or relatives with pets can be a good way to get your “pet fix.” Some tout the joys of time spent with the “grand-animals” of their children. Offering to cat- or dog-sit can be another way to interact with pets. Volunteering at a shelter can also fulfill your own needs as well as provide much appreciated help to the shelter. Organizations such as Therapy Dogs, Delta Society and Therapy Dogs International offer pet visits to homes, hospitals and nursing homes.
Whether you own a pet or not, the joys and benefits of being near animals can improve your life, your health and your happiness. As the 18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, “We can judge the heart of a man (or woman) by his treatment of animals.”