By Hazel Bridges
For thousands of years, dogs have been our protectors and companions, but can owning a dog have even more benefits for seniors? Aside from the constant kisses and nonstop tail wagging, dogs can make late life more enjoyable in so many amazing ways. Here are four proven benefits for seniors who decide pet ownership is right for them.
Animals Boost Your Mood and Mental Health
One of the most positive impacts pets can have on the life of seniors is the improvement in mental health. Many seniors, and others, who struggle with depression and other mental health issues find solace in having an animal in their life, and the science is there to back them up. Animals can provide much-needed social support for seniors who may be missing connections with friends and family who are gone or far away, which in turn relieves anxiety and loneliness that can contribute to depression. Aside from offering companionship, pets can also provide purpose and routine to those who are retired and living alone.
Having a Pet Can Improve Heart Health
You know that dogs are full of heart, but did you know having a dog can be good for your own heart? Reports from Harvard University, as well as the American Heart Association, confirm that owning a pet can help reduce your risk for heart attack and stroke, especially when that pet is a dog. What sets dogs apart from other animal companions is their tendency to keep owners active. Walking a dog can be a great low-impact activity for seniors, and it’s recommended that you take a couple of short walks with your canine pal each day. Studies also show that just owning a pet can help lower blood pressure and stress levels, both of which can have a negative effect on heart health.
Your Pet Can Keep You Connected
Having a pet to keep them company can provide seniors with an otherwise-missing social connection, but pets can also help them develop and maintain bonds with other people. Pets, especially dogs, offer their owners reasons to get up and go out in the world, whether it’s to the dog park or just for a stroll around the block. These furry friends also serve as the perfect icebreaker for conversations with strangers, especially those who love animals as well. If you are a senior living with a disability, there is some research that also suggest dogs can help improve your interactions with the public, as people tend to think more positively about pet owners in general.
A Pet Can Help You Stay Safe
Pets offer an array of physical and mental benefits for seniors, but they can also have a much more practical purpose: protection. Many seniors living alone may start to feel more secure in their home with a pet, particularly a dog. A barking dog can be a deterrent to criminals and an alert to let you know that something isn’t right. If you do choose a dog for protection, there are several recommended breeds you can consider, but it’s also important to keep your ability to care for an animal into consideration. Many of these breeds are high energy, so it may be a good idea to look for a dog walker or pet sitter to help your dog get exercise beyond your daily walks and avoid destructive behavior.
Getting a pet can be quite a commitment, but the perks of owning a pet far outweigh any of the day-to-day responsibilities. In fact, those responsibilities can actually improve the lives of owners, especially seniors, by keeping them active, happy, and connected to others. Finding the perfect pet could be the key to finding happiness and balance in your life.
Hazel Bridges is a freelance writer and a Wellness Coach for seniors.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash