Instinctively, many of us have always realized how much it helps us to own a pet during retirement, although we may not have given it much thought. In fact, during the Covid pandemic, pet adoptions increased dramatically, as people of all ages sought the companionship of a pet, especially if they expected to spend a lot of time alone. Having a pet broke up the solitude for many lonely seniors who were unable to see friends and family because of Covid. Many of them were very creative in their choice of pets, too. Recently, I met a neighbor who was out walking her very large pet turtle!
Pet adoptions nearly emptied the kennels in a number of animal shelters, providing homes to animals who might never have been adopted, if it had not been for the pandemic. Many of the adopted animals were older, more "mature" animals, which are often overlooked in the shelters, so adopting them was a great service.
Although millions of seniors own a pet, it is a topic which has never been covered on the Baby-Boomer-Retirement blog before, so I welcomed the offer from Johny Kershaws to write a guest post on the topic. In the article below, Johny explains how much owning a pet can help the seniors who own them. Animals have so much to teach us. An interesting book on the topic is "What I Learned from My Dog: My Life's Lessons Journal." (Ad)
Benefits of Pet Ownership for Seniors
by Johny Kershaws
Call it whatever you prefer it to be – pet therapy, pet-assisted counseling, or pet care – the advantages of pet ownership for senior citizens have been widely recognized and acknowledged for generations.
Animals have been shown to relieve pain, reduce loneliness, and provide elders around the world with loyalty and emotional support. Loneliness is a factor in many seniors' poor health. Consequently, you can improve the quality of your life through pet ownership as a way to avoid loneliness, dissatisfaction, inadequacy and feelings of low self-worth.
The most prevalent types of pets owned by older people are cats and dogs, ranging from Chihuahuas to Golden Retrievers, but the list also includes rabbits, farm animals, birds, fish, and turtles as likely options. Some senior living communities allow pets, which is an important issue to consider if you or your parent is considering moving into one with an animal.
Among the benefits of pet ownership are:
1. Pets Combat Loneliness
Just petting an animal can decrease your stress and make you feel more comfortable, because the touch releases "feel good" dopamine chemicals in your nervous system. In addition, owning a pet makes you more likely to talk with strangers, especially while out walking your dog or enjoying a day at the dog park.
Moreover, you may quickly realize that owning a pet will frequently give you opportunities to chat with nearly anyone, whenever you are out with your pet.
2. Animals Can Ease Anxiety and Pain
For many senior citizens, pain is an all too common experience, and anxiety can often make the pain feel worse.
Older people sometimes have health problems such as osteoporosis and arthritis which cause periodic pain. A pet can reduce their discomfort and contribute to the relief of their pain. In several studies, pet therapy has proven very effective in reducing symptoms among seniors who have suffered trauma.
Many elderly people have even asserted that their pets took away their pain. The production of oxytocin in the brain, a positive hormone, is often increased when interacting with pets. This hormone also reduces the sense of anxiety and pain in people.
3. Pets Encourage Seniors to Stick to a Routine
For a healthy lifestyle, it is very important to adhere to a routine, especially for senior citizens who no longer work or have another reason to follow a schedule. When you own a pet, you become accountable to another living creature. This is true even if you own something as simple as a fish or turtle. You must guarantee that food, water, training, maintenance, and other needs are addressed in a timely manner for your pet. Taking care of another living creature makes seniors more likely to take care of their own needs, too, such as following a regular schedule themselves for eating, sleeping, and getting exercise.
4. Animals Keep Seniors Mentally Active
Over half (62%) of the seniors surveyed said they maintained a regular routine by taking care of their beloved pets, and 73% claimed they had a sense of purpose which was reawakened by having a pet.
After you retire, if an individual has little sense of purpose, the risk of depression increases. This higher rate of depression can sometimes lead to lower cognitive ability, since you may feel there is nothing worthwhile for you to do each day. Being able to feed, walk, care for, and play with an animal can begin to fill those empty hours and help keep your mind sharp. In addition, if you walk a dog or play with your cat, you will also get exercise, benefiting both you and the animal.
5. Pets Help You Remain Social
As mentioned, depression may be devastating in senior citizens, and isolation has been shown to increase heart disease rates by 29 percent to 32 percent. In an analysis of 70 studies with 3.4 million individuals, the chance of death is 30 percent higher in the following seven years if you become more isolated in retirement.
In a recent survey, however, 65 percent of older pet owners stated their animals helped them stay connected to other people, because they often socialize with other pet owners. Of course, most pet owners also interact with and talk to their animals, which reduces their feelings of loneliness, too!
6. Handling Animals Can Lower Blood Pressure
A pet can help you stay healthy in a variety of ways, including reducing your blood pressure. In some studies, pet ownership has been shown to reduce the risk of heart complications after heart attacks. Many small lapdogs, like Chihuahuas and others, are especially suitable for seniors because of their small size and personality. Holding one can also reduce your stress, which helps to lower your blood pressure.
7· Many Pets Help Their Owners Stay Active
Larger pets, such as dogs and cats, must engage in some physical activity regularly. This workout can come in the form of regular walks, playing with a ball, chasing after toys, and similar activities. The pet's daily training requirements may differ from one breed to another, but most of them need their owner to engage them in a certain amount of physical activity, which is also a way for the owner to get exercise, as well.
Failure to provide exercise can cause your pet to become overweight and bored. Owners can avoid this by keeping their pets physically fit. Even very elderly seniors can sometimes find a way to satisfy the physical needs of their pets by tossing a ball to their dog, dangling a toy in front of their cat, or playing with them in other ways. In addition, pets help keep seniors moving as they perform basic tasks, such as feeding their pet, bathing it, taking it to the vet, and doing similar things for it.
If you intend to get a dog, choose one which will fit your way of life. Take into consideration the needs and requirements of the animal. If you live in a senior apartment or living community which allow pets, it is especially important to choose the correct breed and size dog.
You may want to read a book like "Every Dog: A Book of Over 450 Breeds." (Ad) It contains pictures of the different types of dogs, as well as information on their size, exercise requirements, ease of training, affection, and whether they are likely to be good with your grandchildren. It can be a useful tool before you choose the dog you want to own during retirement.
8. Pets Relieve Stress
Many types of pets seem incredibly wise. They frequently are aware of the mental state of their owners and may try to provide them with comfort and companionship when they need it the most.
Animals can be regarded as essential stress-breakers. All too often, they know exactly how to save the day for their owners.
Our brain rests when we are with our pets. Having an animal around tends to boost brain oxytocin development, which reduces stress and tension in our bodies. That is one reason so many people have pets as comfort animals.
9. Animals Can Ease Depression
Unfortunately, many older adults are lonely later in life. They may spend a lot of time by themselves because of health problems which keep them home, the death of their partner, adult children who are unable to visit, or even an unexpected worldwide pandemic which forces shutdowns and closures.
It is not easy on anyone to be alone, because most of us crave companionship. Without it, it is common to become depressed, which is terrible for your health.
One way to help us feel free from loneliness is by caring for a pet. Your dog, cat or other pet can become your buddy, bring you joy, and just be there for you.
Their wagging tail is a sign that you are the center of their lives. Knowing this brings joy to their owners.
10. Pets, Especially Dogs, Provide A Sense Of Security
Finally, having an animal in your home can offer a sense of comfort, peace, and security. Pets, in particular dogs, will often alarm their owners if someone unfamiliar is at the door or tries to enter the house. However, they are not the only animals which can aid in your personal security. Cats and birds have also been known to create loud sounds, and even attack, when their owner appears to be at risk. Owning an animal can make you much more secure when you live alone.
However, not all animals meet the needs of every senior citizen. Before you bring an animal home, take a little time to think about the right one to meet your personal needs and fit your situation. Consult a veterinarian to learn about the pros and cons of various types of pets you are considering. Make sure you also take into consideration the cost of owning each kind of animal, including food, grooming, and potential veterinarian bills. You should also consider who will care for the pet if you travel or need to go into the hospital.
You may be interested in reading about the various types of pets (Ad) and the advantages and disadvantages of each. This could help you avoid unexpected issues before you spend a lot of money on a pet which may not be right for you.
Dogs have always been one of the most popular choices in pets for seniors, followed by cats, although there are other options you may want to consider. You have to decide which type of pet is the right choice for you.
Dogs, in particular, are renowned for their devotion to their humans, and for their unconditional affection. Keeping a dog, cat or other pet at home will not only relieve your sense of isolation, but will also encourage you to lead a more productive, happier and safe existence.
About the author: The writer of this post is a pet lover who owns a dog and loves to write about everything related to pets. She is a frequent writer and contributor to top online pet publications and blogs, including Dog Breeds 911 and Pet Friendly Senior Living.
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Photo credit: Photo provided by Johny Kershaws