What Are the Health Benefits of Pet Ownership for Mature Adults?

June 22, 2021

Did you know that owning a pet, especially a dog, can help you maintain good heart health? It’s true! In 2019, the Mayo Clinic published a paper that compared pet owners and non-pet owners. It found that pet owners were more likely to have a healthy amount of movement, eat a better diet, and have a better BMI than people who didn’t own a pet. Among pet owners, dog owners had the best lifestyles. 

Owning a pet can really help decrease the feeling of loneliness. Dogs have the nickname “man’s best friend” for a good reason. They’re very protective of their humans, for a start. They can also mirror your emotions. They seem to understand when their humans are sad, for instance, and will come put their head in your lap. Petting a dog’s silky ears and seeing its tail wag can be a great way to improve your mood. In fact, some people have even found benefit from robotic pets, when ownership isn’t an option.

Pets Encourage You to Exercise

One of the great things about a dog is that it needs to be walked. This will be built in exercise for you. Walking is great for your heart and lungs. It’s also great for your mental health to be out in the fresh air and sunshine. Other dog owners are typically very friendly. It’s not hard to strike up a conversation or a friendship with other people you meet while walking your dog. Taking your dog to a dog park gives you more chances to make friends. 

If you’re not a dog person, other pets can also be great companions. A friendly cat, a well-trained rabbit, even an aquarium of fish can help you feel less alone. A pet can also help you stick to a routine -- it has to be fed on a regular basis. It also needs to see the vet. Caring for your animal friend will give you a stronger sense of purpose in life. The care you give your pet can also remind you to take care of yourself. After all, human beings need to eat and see their doctors, too. 

There are several things to keep in mind as you consider what sort of pet to get. 

  • Cost. Even a shelter pet will have fees, especially to spay or neuter. You can get financial assistance through local groups. 
  • Training. It can be fun to have a cute puppy or kitten. However, do you have the energy to potty train a dog? Do you want to teach the animal not to jump on people and furniture? 
  • Personality of animal. Take time to get to know the potential pet before bringing it home forever. Most older adults prefer a calm animal. Be aware that some shelter pets will have behavioral issues.
  • Age of animal. Older animals are typically calmer and may already be trained. 
  • Back up care. Whether you go on vacation or have to go to the hospital, you need to have someone who can take care of your pet while you’re away.

A Service Dog Can Assist People with Health Concerns

Maybe you need more than a companion. Maybe you need a fully trained service animal. These are usually certain breeds of dogs--golden retrievers, poodles, and greyhounds are all examples. They can be trained to help a person with mobility challenges to maintain their balance or help guide a person with low vision. They can remind people to take their medication and alert a diabetic when their blood sugar is low. Emotional support animals are often used in counseling sessions and at adult and teen therapy centers and hospitals to help individuals connect and calm anxiety. These are just a few examples of the work a service dog can do. 

It’s a good idea for a service dog to wear a vest or harness, so people know it’s a service animal. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with service dogs and allows them to bring their dogs into most public buildings, as well as housing facilities that might not ordinarily allow animals. To find a service dog, search for non-profit organizations that specialize in service animals. They can help you get the right documentation from your doctor to qualify, as well as help with the cost. 

Whether you get a pet or a service animal, having an animal companion can significantly improve your quality of life. As always, if you found this on social media, feel free to subscribe to Senior Life to get more tips on living life as a mature adult. 

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