Puppy Love: Pets Can Offer Health Benefits for Seniors

Pets are great companions. They bring life to any home and make their owners feel loved. Seniors can benefit greatly from owning pets. From a positive mental disposition to physical improvements, having a furry friend around offers health advantages.

A study by the American Psychological Association showed that pet owners' well-being fared better than their non-pet-owning counterparts. Pet ownership also helped fulfill their social needs. Research has shown that elderly people who own pets need fewer doctor's visits, too.

Here's a rundown of some of the health benefits that seniors with animal companions may enjoy:

  • Lower blood pressure. The Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, conducted a three-year study that showed pet owners had lower blood pressure and triglyceride and cholesterol levels compared with non-pet-owners. Interacting with pets releases the hormone oxytocin, which can help reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Increased physical activity. Pets need exercise, which in turn, could increase a senior pet owner's daily activity. Walking your dog can improve your blood circulation and help you get in shape. It also calls for a regular routine. With a four-legged companion in tow, doing exercise can be more enjoyable.
  • Reduced depression. With kids and grandkids moving away, empty nesting can be a long and lonely period. Having pets can improve your mood, help you cope with loneliness and keep your spirits up. According to a survey, 82% of the elderly respondents said that pets help when they feel sad, while 71% said that their pets help when they feel physically bad.
  • Improved mental health. Pet ownership, and the need to care for the animal, can improve the alertness of seniors. Animal companions may even help spur memory recall. They also allow seniors to focus on something other than the physical challenges that may come with loss or aging. Studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients have fewer outbursts when they have pets at home.
  • Increased social interaction. Going to the park to walk your dog allows you to socially interact with people. It gives you the opportunity to meet other pet owners and strike up a conversation with them. It can open doors for you to be part of a new community.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Having someone wonder where you are when you don't come home at night is a very old human need." Pets can meet this particular need and more. They bring vigor and vibrancy to life. They are faithful companions that love unconditionally. They make life not only better but also brighter. If you're considering a pet, don't hesitate to consult veterinarians and animal shelters for help in choosing the right pet for you.