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Healthy Aging: 4 Ways Pets Help Older Adults Feel Young Again

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Recent findings from the University of Michigan show that 55% of adults between the age of 50 and 80 have a pet. Many of these pet owners couldn’t imagine life without their pooch, kitty, reptile, or rabbit.

An older adult might choose to take on the responsibility of a pet for all manner of reasons. A pet can help older folks feel younger and can be a great way to meet others at dog parks or pet stores.

Pets also help older adults stay physically active, and can be a great stress relief for folks who suffer from generalized anxiety or depression later in life.

Socialization

Owning a pet is a surprisingly social thing to do. Most pet owners find ways to share their love of their pets with others, and dog owners can take their pooch to pet parks and doggy-meet-ups. This is particularly important for older adults, who may have recently retired and need to find a new way to socialize.

Older adults can connect with groups and rediscover their social life by attending events like:

  • Scheduled dog walks in the neighborhood
  • Join Facebook appreciation groups for reptiles, birds, or rabbits
  • Pet training groups and courses

Joining pet-oriented communities can help older adults make meaningful bonds in later life. Digital communities are particularly beneficial for older adults who face a mobility challenge or are unable to join groups for walking or training.

Folks who can meet up in person will quickly connect with a group of like-minded pet lovers. This can give retirees a new weekly schedule to fill their time and can seriously improve their overall health. Folks who socialize with their kitties or pooches can enjoy pet-related health benefits like:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Decreased depression and anxiety
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Better weight management

These health benefits can have a knock-on effect on older folk’s overall health, and help them live happier longer lives.

Companionship

Later life can be lonely. Many older adults find that, without work or kids, they become isolated and spend more time alone than they would like. A pet can make for a wonderful companion during these difficult times and help older adults regain their sense of purpose.

Dogs are known as “man’s best friend” for a reason, but that doesn’t mean that other pets are less affectionate or loving. Most cats love a back scratch, and rabbits love to come inside and snuggle down on their owner's laps in the evenings.

Older adults may benefit from owning multiple pets, too. However, before starting a mixed pet household, owners must create an environment that everyone will enjoy. Start slow, and let the existing pet get used to the idea that they have a new sibling from a different species. Keep dogs on a leash at first to avoid fights, and keep an eye on both pets to assess their behavior.

By taking on a pet, older adults can rediscover their daily schedule and build a routine around pet care and loving cuddles.

Exercise

Regular exercise is a core component of healthy aging. Playing with pets, going on walks, and generally caring for animal companions are great ways to work up a sweat and reap the rewards of an active lifestyle.

Walking with pooches and playing in the park is particularly important for older adults. The benefits of daily walking include:

  • Muscle strengthening
  • Increased energy
  • Improved balance
  • Weight control
  • Maintained bone strength
  • Better quality sleep

 

This is particularly important for older adults, who may find that their energy dips and their bone strength deteriorate later in life. Owning a pet and going on walks can alleviate the fear of falling, and reduces the risk of developing conditions like insomnia.

Even folks who don’t own a dog can benefit from the exercise that pets require. Folks who own large areas of land may choose to adopt unusual pets like alpacas, horses, or a goat. These pets require a lot of care. Daily brushing, feeding, and cleaning is a great workout and is sure to keep older folks feeling supple and fit later in life.

Many older adults don’t have the space to raise a demanding pet like a billy goat or a Shetland pony. Some older folks intentionally downsize in retirement to reduce upkeep and save on household bills.

Older adults who live in smaller spaces can still enjoy the health benefits of pet ownership by choosing from one of the best dog breeds for apartment living. Shih Tzu and French bulldogs love living in smaller spaces, and even a small sectional will feel massive for them. If prospective owners want a bigger dog, a greyhound – a.k.a the “40 mph couch potato” – might be a good fit.

Mental Health

Older adults sometimes struggle to transition into later life. After a busy career, slowing down and entering retirement can be daunting. It’s little wonder that many adults over 50 struggle with depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation.

Owning a pet can help older adults get out of a rut and see life’s silver linings again. Dogs can help older adults manage their depression and find a new purpose in life. Playing with a pooch can elevate dopamine and serotonin levels. This helps older folks feel happy and find a sense of calm when they settle down in the evening.

Certain breeds of dogs are better suited to pet therapy than others. Breeds like King Charles Cavaliers and West Highland White Terriers love to be petted and held, meaning they make for wonderful companions. Likewise, labradors and retrievers are always happy and make for loyal, loving companions.

Seniors who are approaching later in life may be worried about conditions like dementia. Owning a dog can slow down dementia and give older adults greater independence for longer.

Dementia assistance dogs are important caregivers for folks with dementia. Dogs can assist with tracking, stability, and behavior redirection. For example, dementia assistance dogs can be trained to fetch tablets and wake dementia sufferers up in the morning. Additionally, dementia-trained dogs take their owners for walks on dual leads, meaning that folks with dementia can enjoy the health benefits of walking without fear of getting lost.

Conclusion

Owning a pet can improve older adults’ quality of life and help them feel connected with the world post-retirement. Even small pets, like rabbits or birds, can provide the companionship and love that we all need to feel happy and fulfilled. This can alleviate feelings of loneliness and give older adults a sense of purpose in their day-to-day lives.

Larger pets, like dogs and cats, are particularly helpful for older adults who feel isolated. Walking a dog and visiting the local pet park is a great way to meet new people and fellow animal lovers. Dogs can also provide care to older adults who need support due to mobility issues or dementia.

Older adults can consider running a multi-pet household, too. There’s nothing better than watching cats play with puppies or tending to chickens and pygmy goats. Just be sure to check that the animals are compatible with one another, and consider the future when mobility issues may make it difficult for older adults to feed, groom, and exercise larger animals like horses.

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