How Pets Can Help You Live A Happier, Healthier Life

Megan Ray  |  May 2, 2014

Everybody loves pets. The lovable household critters are sure to put a smile on almost everyone's face. But did you know that in addition to filling your home with joy, pets can also help you improve your overall health? In fact, owning a pet can be a significant part of a healthy lifestyle for many seniors.

The benefits of furry friends
Many studies have been done into the benefits pet ownership and interaction can have on a senior's quality of life, and the results have been overwhelmingly favorable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on the health benefits of pet ownership, including increased levels of physical activity and lowered stress levels. Perhaps even more astounding, these effects can often be instantaneous. A study from the National Institutes of Health measured stress responses in nine-minute sessions with a dog and found that interaction with dogs, especially ones that were familiar to the subjects, was linked directly to reduced blood pressure during the test period.

Not all seniors may feel up to the seemingly daunting task of pet ownership. Even if you choose not to take on the full responsibility of bringing a pet into your home, it's still possible to enjoy the benefits of interacting with animals. Many seniors have taken part in animal-assisted therapy, also known as pet therapy. Even these relatively limited interactions have had measurable effects on reducing levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness. 

Is a pet right for you?
If you do feel like becoming a pet owner is the right choice for you, the question of what kind of animal you adopt bears careful consideration. Much research has been conducted into the health benefits of owning a dog, and for seniors who have ample time and are physically mobile, dogs are great companions. It's important to take into think about such factors as the size of the breed, how much space they need and, perhaps most importantly, how much exercise they'll need daily. While dogs make great pets, an improperly exercised pooch can bring its own unique set of problems.

For those who are uncomfortable with a dog-sized undertaking, adopting a house cat is a fantastic alternative for connecting with a furry friend. The American Humane Association outlined many of the ways in which cats make fabulous pets for seniors, especially those who are more homebound. In addition to requiring less physical space in your home, cats also tend to be less hands-on in their care and maintenance, While dogs require daily walks for exercise, cats can be properly worked out with 20-30 minutes of play inside with a favorite cat toy, making them perfect for seniors with arthritis or other mobility concerns.