Whether it is a dog, cat, fish, bird, or some other pet, your little or not-so-little beastie can have a positive impact on your happiness and health over the years. People report that their pets help them stay active, avoid loneliness and cope with health issues. Read on to learn how Fido can help you stay healthy as you age.
An Overview of Pet Ownership by Older Americans
In a recent poll, most people age 50 to 80 said they have at least one pet. Most of those pet owners have more than one pet. Dogs are the most common pet, with 68 percent of the study participants having at least one dog. Nearly half of the respondents had cats. Small pets like fish, hamsters and birds, are less popular, at 16 percent.
The Many Benefits of Pets for Seniors
Pets can serve many useful functions as we age. People who live alone or are in fair or poor physical health say their pets can take their mind off their pain. Pets also help people in these two groups deal with the physical or emotional symptoms of their medical issues.
Older adults said their pets help them to:
- Feel loved. Whether it is a dog smothering you with doggie kisses or a cat curled up on your lap and purring, pets can make you feel as if you are the center of their world. Most people with pets say their pet sleeps on the person’s bed at night.
- Connect with other people. Just as people in their thirties and forties love to talk about their kids, people with pets enjoy talking with each other about how clever or naughty their beasts are. When you take your dog for a walk, you also get outside and have an opportunity to interact with people.
- Stick to a routine. It is easy to slip into a habit of wandering aimlessly through your days after you retire. Many people dislike this lack of structure but do not know what to do about it. If you have to get up in the morning to feed the cat or dog, take the dog for a walk and scoop out the little box, you can create a routine that can reduce stress and anxiety.
- Be physically active. Talking the dog for walks or tossing balls for the cat or dog to chase can provide moderate activity that is too much fun to feel like exercise.
- Enjoy life. When you combine all the benefits of pet ownership, it is easy to see how a pet or two can help a person enjoy life more. The joy of being loved, the companionship and improved physical and emotional health add up to a better life.
- Have a sense of purpose. When you have a pet, that animal depends on you for everything. Shelter, food, water, exercise, grooming, and veterinarian care are all up to you. Your career might be behind you, but this little furball needs you. We all need to be needed.
You might find additional ways a pet enhances your life and happiness.
Getting the Benefit of a Pet Without Owning One
A pet is not a viable option for everyone. If the place where you live does not allow pets or the costs of pet ownership are prohibitive, you can derive many of the positive aspects of a pet without having one around all the time. Many seniors volunteer at animal shelters, bring in a few extra bucks as pet sitters or foster pets for rescue groups.
AARP. “How Pets Contribute to Healthy Aging.” (accessed October 2, 2019) https://www.healthyagingpoll.org/report/how-pets-contribute-healthy-aging
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