National Pet Month provides additional attention to pets, pet owners, and the benefits of owning and taking care of pets. Older adults and people who face social isolation are one segment of society that benefits significantly from pet ownership.
As a pet owner, it’s easy to see the joy and companionship that our furry friends bring to our lives. They provide unconditional love, endless entertainment, and a sense of purpose. This can benefit many older Americans living alone who tend to feel isolated regardless of how many family members they might have, ultimately leading to decreased quality of life.
Pet therapy has proven to be a very beneficial and unique solution to help improve quality of life by bringing comfort, companionship, and a positive outlook to those who might otherwise feel lonely.
Pets play a family-type of role.
Spending time with dogs, cats, and other pets provides people with substantial physical, emotional, and mental benefits that can help to improve their quality of life. Pets are companions, dependable friends, and excellent mood boosters. They aid in building socialization skills by helping people to be more expressive. Yes, pets require care and attention, but they can give them back to the owner many, many times over. They become an extension of their own family.
Pet interaction fights depression.
People who face social isolation on a daily basis have a very high risk of depression, which can lead to a multitude of adverse health risks. Pet therapy can be as simple as spending quality time with an affectionate animal. Even being in the same room as a calm pet has been shown to improve someone’s perspective.
Studies have shown that owning a pet lowers blood pressure.
Heart problems consistently remain the leading risk for people as they age. High blood pressure can be a strong contributing factor to that. That’s why being around a pet can be so beneficial. Owning a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure, which helps to lower the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and other coronary issues. Studies have shown that older adults with heart problems who interact with pets regularly and consistently tend to have longer life spans.
Playing with pets increases physical activity.
It’s always essential for people to stay active to help them stay healthy. Even more so as we age. Staying active can help reduce stiffness, improve mobility and some conditions of arthritis. Just the simple act of walking the dog or playing with a cat can, over time, help maintain and strengthen a range of movement and flexibility.
Hands-on pet care improves confidence and self-esteem.
Some older adults lose a sense of self-worth and confidence when relying on others. Owning and caring for a pet can help them boost their confidence and self-esteem, improving their sense of independence.
Dog owners tend to have better recovery after health events.
A study published in AHAJourney found that dog owners tend to live longer than non-dog owners and recover better from major health events, especially if they live alone. The study went on to find that:
Heart attack and stroke survivors who live alone had a reduced risk of death if they owned a dog. In fact, dog owners are less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than non-dog owners.
Pet benefits without the burden of ownership.
Despite these benefits, pet ownership can be challenging, particularly for older adults. As we age, physical limitations, such as decreased mobility or arthritis, can make it harder to care for our pets. However, interacting with a pet –your own or someone else’s pet– can help improve happiness and fight loneliness. So how do older adults benefit from pet interaction without the responsibility of owning a pet?
There are quite a few options you can take advantage of; you just have to research the area where you live and find what options are close to you. Some of the ways you can tap into the pet benefit are:
Look to your neighbor: Start with what’s close to you, and see which neighbors you might have that walk their pets. Break the ice by asking them if you can join them on their walks to get to know your neighbor and their furry friend. The benefits of interacting with a pet are all the same. Plus, you never know; once the pet gets to know you, you could make a great pet sitter if they have to leave somewhere.
Volunteer at a shelter: Look to any local pet shelters around you and see if they need help feeding, walking, or socializing. Getting animals socialized helps improve their ability to get adopted, so you can benefit from the interaction and help the animal have a better future.
Visit a dog or cat cafe: Pet cafes are places where people can grab coffee and snacks and interact, cuddle, and play with pets looking for a good home. You can find one more prevalent in large cities with a quick internet search.
Try a temporary solution: If you want to try pet ownership, but on a trial basis to see if it works for you, you can volunteer to foster a pet. Pet rescue organizations always seek kind people willing to provide a temporary home for animals until they are adopted.
Help someone in the military: If you live near a military base, it is typical for someone in the military to have a pet and then have to deploy. You can offer to foster the pet for a service member until they return.
Connect with Pet Partners: If they have an office near you, you can sign up to take a walk with a therapy animal and its handler through the Pet Partner’s Walk With Me Program. Just visit PetPartners.org for more information.
Daily pet care can be a challenge.
For some older adults, the daily care for their pets can be a challenge with the tasks of exercising their pet with walks or playtime, cleaning their feeding bowls, and even litter boxes can be more of a strain than they are used to. If you don’t have family or friends who can help occasionally, how do you keep the health benefits of owning a pet when pet care tasks become challenging?
Companions can be an excellent resource for pet owners who need help caring for their pets. For example, Companions can assist you with feeding, grooming, and exercising your pet. They can also help with more difficult tasks like cleaning litter boxes or walking dogs.
One common issue that older adults face concerning pet care is litter box placement. Cleaning litter boxes on the floor challenging, which can lead to poor litter box hygiene and be dangerous for pets and their owners. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cat feces contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause serious health problems, particularly for seniors.
Companions can help place litter boxes in a safe and accessible location. They can also assist with litter box hygiene by helping clean the litter boxes and disposing of waste properly. Additionally, Companions can help recognize signs of illness or injury in their pets and can assist with getting them the care they need.
Pets are along for life’s journey.
Life can be a rollercoaster ride; for many, their pets are part of that journey. Pets are woven into their owner’s lives through special memories of years gone by of people they knew, their experiences, events, hardships, and joyous moments.
Pet owners often remember chapters of their lives based on the pets with whom they shared those years. When you have shared a pet with someone, that pet keeps you connected with them, especially after they have gone.
Sharing our senior years with a companion pet can make this chapter of our lives happier, more prosperous, and healthier. However, you need a plan so that you can enjoy these benefits as you age.
We all need support from time to time.
It’s important to take time out to do whatever you can to help yourself thrive and live well, and it’s also essential to recognize when you might need extra help.
If you or a loved one struggle to care for a pet, consider scheduling a Companion for assistance. Not only can they help with pet care, but they can also provide valuable companionship and support. Additionally, many resources are available to help older adults with the cost of pet care, such as low-cost veterinary clinics or financial assistance programs.
National Pet Month reminds us that pets are an essential part of our lives and that caring for them is a responsibility we should take seriously. By working with Companions and other resources, seniors can continue to enjoy the benefits of pet ownership while ensuring their pets are well cared for and happy.
The Maxim at Home team is here to help
Do you need help with a loved one? Then consider Maxim at Home’s homemaker and companionship services. Our team of friendly, compassionate Companions takes great pride in serving people in their own community who need light assistance with daily chores, some company and conversation, or convenient transportation for errands, appointments, or trips to the store.
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