Pets offer their owners many benefits beyond having a cute and cuddly animal with which to snuggle. New research suggests that, especially for senior citizens, dogs and cats can help improve mental stability, create feelings of joy, encourage physical activity and increase overall health.
Coupling seniors with calm, manageable adult dogs and cats has resulted in decreased feelings of loneliness and depression and sharper mental acumen because pets' tendency to live for the present rubs off on their owners. This leads to a healthier emotional life, which often translates to motivation for physical activity and socialization.
"There is a correlation between pet ownership and people feeling hope and joy, particularly for the elderly," said Dr. Lance Coy, a veterinarian at Pine Meadow Vet Clinic. "It gives them something to care for."
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and published research, companion animals reduce the effects of Alzheimer's, and decrease blood pressure levels and cholesterol. Add to that animals' affinity for unconditional love, loyalty and purpose, and you have a completely natural and healthy remedy for the most frequent senior ailments.
Because having a pet requires a decent amount of dedication and commitment, seniors are often advised to pair with adult dogs and animals that are calm and more easily manageable. Pairing senior pets in need of love with senior people in need of accompaniment provides infinite benefits for both.
For older individuals, a companion animal -- ranging from a dog or cat to a fish or even reptilian pet -- provides essential social contact they would not otherwise have. According to Pet Partners in a study of mature adults living alone, 75 percent of males and 67 percent of females said their dog was their only friend.
Coy said that seniors are just as competent at providing for animals' day-to-day needs as any other age group, though he suggests that older citizens research breeds and ages to discover what type of pet will best suit their physical and residential needs.
"Especially if the pets are smaller and more manageable, seniors remember to give their dogs and cats medications and are as compliant with animal care as anyone else," said Coy. "Even if they are unable to bring their pets in for regular check-ups, older men and women find a way to care for their animal, even if a neighbor brings the animal in or a family member helps with its overall care."
Cats are better for apartments and small housing areas with no yard, whereas dogs are better for the man or woman who does not mind a bit of leisurely physical activity each day. There is research to suggest that dog owners spend an average of an hour and a half outside per day with the dog. Since regular exercise and attentiveness to another's needs play such central roles in physical well-being for people of all ages, the benefits of pet ownership cannot be overstated.
Facebook groups like Senior Pets for Senior People help older citizens connect with those looking for a loving home for their elderly pet. The Pets for the Elderly Foundation is also a great charity that pays a portion of the adoption fee when someone 60 years of age or older adopts a companion pet from a participating shelter. One such local shelter is the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society, located in Ft. Walton Beach.
Seniors, be they of the two- or four-legged variety, are often in need of love, attention and companionship. Pairing the two leads to a greater quality of life and enhanced health benefits for both.
View similar articles online in Council on Aging's quarterly magazine, Coming of Age.
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