Pets Can Keep You Healthier as You Age
Are you a dog lover or a cat person? Or are you happier cooing at your parakeet or gazing at a tank full of fish? Whatever kind of pet you prefer, it’s likely that you and your favorite have established a bond that brings you joy and gives you a reason to get up each morning.
Pets like cats and dogs offer unconditional love and companionship, while smaller pets like birds, fish, hamsters and gerbils offer opportunities to care for a pet and interact on a different level, but one that still engages your interest and daily affection.
Health organizations, including the American Heart Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirm that the bond between seniors and their pets can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce stress, increase happiness and alleviate feelings of loneliness, all of which keep you healthy as you age.
Pets offer companionship and help to establish a routine in your life. Pets depend on your care, everything from feeding and grooming them to tasks like cleaning the litter box or birdcage. Dogs have the added benefit of increasing your mobility and fitness by getting you outdoors and walking with them several times each day.
Owning a pet can be a social experience. You’ll meet other people when you walk your dog, take your pet to be groomed or to the vet, and during trips to the store to purchase food, cat litter or toys for them. Making connections with other people helps keep you alert and interested in the world around you.
Some studies indicate that pets like dogs and cats can speed up the healing process after an illness or injury, providing comfort, companionship and cuddling opportunities during a low point in the person’s life.
If you already have a pet, you’re probably aware of how they enrich your life, provide companionship, keep you active and reduce your stress levels — important aspects of a healthy life. If you’re a senior who is considering adopting a pet, keep a few points in mind.
• Lifestyle: Determine your lifestyle and the level of care you can offer. Dogs, for instance, require greater care than cats, birds or fish.
• Cost: Can your budget support a pet? Seniors on fixed incomes should consider this question carefully. Owning a pet means your budget must stretch to include food, cat litter, collars and leashes, vet bills, medication, grooming fees and miscellaneous expenses.
• Travel: If you travel frequently, factor in boarding your pet or having a friend or neighbor look after them. A small dog, for instance, might be able to travel with you, while a larger one might be more difficult to transport.
• Allergies: Do you have allergies? Pet dander can be a problem for some people. And pets that are allowed outdoors can also track in dirt, pollen and ticks.
• The Future: Are you likely to stay in your current living situation for many years, or will you be downsizing from a house to an apartment or transitioning to an assisted living facility in the near future? Will you be able to take your pet with you? Some apartments and health care facilities allow pets, while others won’t.
If owning a pet is out of the question, but you’d still like to experience some of the wonderful benefits of pet companionship, consider volunteering at a pet shelter, offer to walk a neighbor’s dog on a daily or occasional basis, or let your friend know you’ll be happy to take care of her cat while she’s away. Even occasional contact with animals will raise your spirits and help you stay healthy!
Shannon Lynch is the Executive Director of The Morrison Communities, which includes the Morrison Skilled Nursing Facility, Sartwell Place Assisted Living, Morrison Rehabilitation, and Summit by Morrison, a senior living community offering independent living, assisted living, memory care and respite care.
The Morrison Communities is a non-profit 501©(3) charitable community that has been providing quality healthcare to residents of New Hampshire’s North Country since 1903.