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Did you know that over half of all adults in Canada, England, and the United States own pets? Studies have shown that pet ownership peaks around middle age but declines after the age of 55. Though running after an energetic puppy may be too much for some seniors, there's no reason to stop taking in pets later in life. In fact, research has shown that caring for a pet can actually improve health and reduce mortality rates, particularly for older adults.
These awesome perks to pet ownership just might convince you to adopt a furry friend.
Psychological Benefits of Pet Ownership
There are many ways in which pets boost and support seniors' mental health. Most elderly pet owners say that they talk to their pet and that their companion improves their mood when they feel sad. Many adults are comforted by the physical touch of their pet as well. Pet ownership can reduce stress levels and promote an overall sense of well-being. For adults who live alone, the physical and emotional affection provided by animals are particularly useful in staving off feelings of depression and loneliness.
Pets can also support psychological health in other ways. According to New York psychologist Penny Donnenfeld, pet ownership can even boost memory and help seniors learn to live in the present. The mental and emotional support offered by a pet can help take the mind off of physical worries and concerns about the future.
Cat and dog ownership can be particularly useful in boosting seniors' social engagement. Roughly 60% of pet owners say that they've met new friends through having a pet. Just as many adults say that having an animal at home has made get-togethers more pleasant and social. Simply put, pet ownership is good for the mind and the soul.
Physical Benefits of Pet Ownership
Some may find it surprising that pet ownership can benefit one's physical health. In fact, studies have shown that pets can benefit our health in a number of ways. These benefits are multiplied for older adults.
Pet owners have been proven to recover better from illnesses and surgeries. One study even revealed that dog owners were significantly less likely to have died in the year following a severe heart attack as opposed to adults without pets. Pet owners tend to visit doctors 20% less and take fewer medications as well. Their blood pressure and pulse rates have been shown to be better than those of pet-free adults. Another study found that pet owners sleep better and have less indigestion and fewer headaches. Owning a pet clearly does good things for the body.
Dog owners in particular experience many physical health benefits. Regular dog-walking leads to improved strength and muscle tone. This higher level of physical activity naturally improves one’s health in a multitude of ways.
Perhaps the most fascinating evidence of the physical benefits of pet ownership come from a 1980 study of heart disease patients. After months spent examining the patients and recording all of the details of their lives and lifestyles, it was concluded that "the presence of a pet was the strongest social predictor of survival - not just for lonely or depressed people, but for everyone." Even social support and marital status had less of an effect on longevity. In short, owning a pet might just prolong your life.
Finding the Right Pet
Despite pet ownership's many benefits, it is particularly important for seniors to choose the right pet. Consider asking yourself the following questions before deciding on a pet.
Do I have any disabilities or physical limitations?
If you have no handicaps or issues with mobility, all forms of pet ownership are open to you. Seniors who struggle with significant health problems may find that cat, bird, fish, or rodent ownership are easier to manage than dog ownership. If your heart is set on a dog, consider choosing one that has been paper trained and can handle more time indoors.
What activity level do I want from a pet?
Cats are notoriously less active than most dogs. If you prefer a quiet and relaxed home environment, a small pet or a cat will probably suit you best. Those who wish to own dogs should consider elderly animals, as they will generally be less of a hassle compared to their younger counterparts.
Can I afford a pet? If so, which kind?
Pet ownership can be expensive. Some studies have shown that the expenses of owning a dog may average up to $1,000 per year. Cats are generally less expensive than dogs, whereas small animals are generally the least expensive to own.
How was pet ownership for me in the past?
If you've owned a pet in the past, reflect on those experiences. Did you enjoy walking your dog or did you hate having to leave the house? If you enjoyed the experience in the past, it is more likely that you will enjoy it again in the future.
What is the pet's age, health, and temperament?
The age, health, and temperament of a future pet are all important traits to consider. Though older pets are often ideal for seniors, they may also have an increased number of health problems. Cats and dogs with relaxed and loving personalities are generally ideal for seniors, as opposed to high-strung or aloof animals. Consider visiting a shelter or your local humane society to find an animal that best meets your needs.
Though caring for a pet does require time and effort, the benefits of having a feline friend or canine companion outweigh the drawbacks. For improved mental and physical health, adopt a pet; you won't regret it.
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