The Benefits of Pets for Older Adults

Get yourself a pet today! Ok, we don’t have to rush into things, but the benefits of animal companionship for older adults are astonishing.

Whether it’s a dog or other pet, many studies have shown the numerous health benefits they can provide for their humans, in addition to the guaranteed smile at least once a day. Whether it’s chasing those little rascals around to lowering stress levels with a sweet snuggle, pets can make a real difference in your quality and longevity of life. 

Here are the top ways pets benefit older adults:

1. A Health Boost for Your Heart

A study from the American Heart Association found that seniors owning pets experience lower blood pressure and reduced fluctuations in heart rate. Another study out of Australia found pet owners had statistically significant lower blood pressure than nonowners. These participants even had similar BMIs and socioeconomic profiles.

Additionally, dog ownership in particular is said to correlate with a longer lifespan, especially for those who are heart attack or stroke survivors.

Along with lower blood pressure, several studies show that dog owners are 50% or more likely to attain the recommended amount of daily physical activity and steps than those without a pet. Findings have shown that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week compared to 168 minutes per week for nonowners. Research from the Journal of Physical Activity & Health says this can be an average of 2,760 more steps per day than non-pet-owners, which adds up to 23 minutes of moderate exercise every day. 

2. Alleviate Pain

Loyola University Health System came out with a groundbreaking study that found older adults recovering from surgery need less pain medication if they have a pet or engage in pet therapy compared to those who don’t. Reduced reliance on pain relief drugs can not only save money, but also minimize the risk of addiction or dependency-related issues.

3. Decrease Loneliness

The companionship of a pet that’s special to you can dramatically cut back on the feeling of loneliness. The endless affection that many pets have for their owners, as well as their cute and silly antics, can make an impact when times are otherwise lonely. Pets provide a guaranteed daily interaction, which can be crucial for an older adult’s wellbeing.

4. Boosted Social Interactions

Along with decreasing loneliness at home, pets make excellent conversation and friendship starters. If talking about the weather is getting boring when meeting people, try having a pet to share about, or having along with you to create a shared point of interest. Pets supply stories almost daily of some crazy or cute thing they just did.

5. 100% Increase in Smiling

We couldn’t pinpoint the research for this one, but we do know the power of smiling. Like yawning, smiling is contagious and increases happiness levels. We can attest that dogs getting the zoomies or the wiggle of a rabbit’s little cottontail bring smiles every time! 

Unlike the delicacy of human relationships, you can never be mad at your pet for long with the unconditional love they show you. Just imagine starting every morning with a companion who is maybe even more excited to see you and love you as they were yesterday!
While the benefits of pet ownership are obvious, there are certainly some logistics you must consider if it’s the right choice for you and your lifestyle. 

“For many older adults, the risks and responsibilities of pet ownership add up to be too taxing, and therefore outweigh the benefits.”

For this reason, consider the following:

  1. Cost

    Expenses can vary greatly between pets. Dogs will top the list for costs versus a goldfish, but smaller dogs come with less requirements, too. For the financial whizzes reading this, think of a pet as an investment in your future. Reduced health concerns for you, increased mental cognition, and boosted quality of life can all save on the budget. Estimated costs for various pets can easily be found with a quick Google search online.
  2. Time

    Are you a social butterfly constantly engaged and around others? Maybe a dog isn’t the right choice for you, but cats, fish, or a bird could be a great extra boost for you. No matter the pet, they require some sort of daily allocation of your time, and in turn you’ll feel a fulfilling sense of purpose by caring for them.
  3. Residency Policies

    If you live in a community with pet regulations, check into them. Policies vary greatly between places, but more and more senior communities are welcoming pets of all kinds. Three Pillars is a pet-friendly campus, but be sure to talk to one of our Senior Living Consultants for more information.
  4. Your Health

    Your health, mobility, and energy levels can help determine if a pet is right for you, and if so, which type. Consider your physical ability to care for the little one, as well as if you have someone to call on for help if you or the pet needed assistance. Whether you want to get away for a vacation or have an unforeseen health emergency that prohibits you from caring for your pet, having a plan of action is key for your favorite fur ball.

Whether you ultimately decide having a pet is the right choice for you or not, know the great news is there are always alternatives such as Pet Therapy or visiting a neighbor’s pet to reap similar benefits. Therapy Dog International is a great organization that can make home visits. Take a moment, research and embrace the love that pets and animals will bring to your life.

Can you speak to the benefits of pets? Leave us a comment below!