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June 18, 2014

How Pets Benefit Older Adults’ Physical, Social, and Emotional Health

If you've owned animals, you undoubtedly know your pet companions make you feel good. But you may be surprised at just how many ways pets benefit older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness while increasing your opportunities for exercise and socialization.

Here, we examine a few ways pets can improve older adults’ physical, emotional, and social health.

Physical Health

According to WebMD, people who own dogs tend to be more physically active and less obese than those who don’t. Adults 65 or older who do not have limiting health conditions need at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, according to the CDC. Taking a dog for a daily brisk 30-minute walk or two 15-minute walks means older adults exceed that requirement.

Improved heart health is another potential physical benefit of interacting with animals for older adults. According to Animal Planet, both the CDC and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have conducted heart-related studies on people with pets. In one study of 240 married couples, pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates during rest than people who did not own a pet. The same was true of stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog in another study. 

Emotional Health

Animals are proven to be one of the biggest (and furriest!) stress busters for older adults. It takes just a few minutes of playing with a dog or cat or watching fish swim to feel less anxious and stressed. That’s because observing animals naturally lowers cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and boosts serotonin, a chemical associated with well being, according to WebMD.

Beyond stress, interacting with animals has proven to be an effective alternative medicine treatment to help battle depression. “Therapists have been known to prescribe a pet as a way of dealing with and recovering from depression,” WebMD states. “No one loves you more unconditionally than your pet, and a pet will listen to you talk as long as you want to talk.”

Pets can be deeply emotionally comforting to older adults who have recently lost a spouse or loved one. This may explain why pet ownership increased 17.7 percent between 2006 and 2011 among people who were divorced, widowed, or separated, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Social Health

Pets, especially dogs, can help older adults feel comfortable meeting new people because they are natural conversation starters. Think about it: What animal lover can pass a friendly looking dog without stopping to give him a pat on the head and quick chat with the owner? This helps ease people out of social isolation or shyness says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, on WebMD. “People ask about breed; they watch the dog’s tricks,” she says. “Sometimes the conversation stays at the ‘dog level;’ sometimes it becomes a real social interchange.” 

Uncover even more positive benefits of pet ownership for older adults in “Pet Companionship for Older Adults.” Download it today!

Pet Companionship With Older Adults Guide


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