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September 03, 2015

How Pet Companionship Can Benefit Older Adults

“If this were a drug, it would be marketed tomorrow.”— Roger Lavelle, veterinarian and senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s Veterinary Clinical Centre

Lavelle is talking about pet ownership and the connection between animals and human health: “Pet owners have significantly reduced levels of known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. ... Pet ownership helped not only the lonely or socially isolated, but everyone.” 

Another study, one published in the British Medical Journal, called dogs “social catalysts,” that lead to “greater interaction between people and alleviating feelings of loneliness ... Dog owners are also better at dealing with stressful events, and therefore helping them avoid anxiety-related illnesses.”

Psychology Today also chimes in: “The story that older adults benefit from pet therapy is shortsighted. EVERYONE benefits from pet therapy.”

Why? Here are just some of the benefits of pet companionship listed in that 2013 article:

  • “Older pet owners walk significantly farther when they walked with a dog, which might contribute to their making fewer visits to the doctor.” 
  • “Talking to a pet rather than a person was associated with lower heart rate.”
  • “Even in nursing homes, the presence of a dog is associated with reduced need for medication, improved physical functioning, and improved vital signs.”

Meanwhile, preliminary research at the University of Missouri-Columbia indicates just a few minutes of petting a dog releases “feel good” hormones in humans.

Choosing the Right Pet

If you already have an animal you love, then you won’t need these tips. But, if you’ve decided to get a pet as an older adult, here are points to think about:

  • What is the right pet for your lifestyle and activity level? Dogs are wonderful companions, EverydayHealth.com says, but need more attention and training than cats, birds or fish.
  • Choose a pet that fits your lifestyle now — and, as much as it is possible to predict, will do so in the future. 
  • Do you have allergies? Take them into consideration. 
  • If you can’t care for the animal — whether because you’re going on vacation, moving to another location that isn’t pet-friendly or for health reasons — do you have a contingency plan?

Overcoming Obstacles

Another article in Science 2.0, Pet Ownership Has Potential Benefits For Older Adults, shares that increasing numbers of programs are being created that “facilitate the adoption of pets by older adults. These programs match older adults with adult shelter animals and provide support throughout the adoption and ownership processes.” 

A Local Story of a Pet’s Love

When one Northeast Ohio man suffered a significant stroke, he thought he’d never walk again — but he credits his dog, Stormy, for bringing joy (and movement) back into his life. “I sure didn’t want to disappoint Stormy,” Bill recalls, “so as soon as I could, I started throwing the ball for him. Then, as soon as I could, I walked with him. Stormy’s body language continued to encourage me to keep trying, and so I did.” 

You can enjoy Bill’s infectious laughter as he plays ball with his loving and faithful companion.

Adding a pet to your home, or spending time with an animal for a few minutes a day, can have significant health benefits and brighten both the human’s and animal’s spirits.

Avoiding a Nursing Home | Kendal at Home

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