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Health Benefits of Pets for Seniors

A senior man getting puppy kisses with a cat and dog on either side of him.

Most older adults consider their pet part of the family, but did you know they also provide a variety of incredible benefits that impact your physical and mental health?

From offering unwavering companionship to helping you recover after an illness or injury, look at these seven health benefits of pets for seniors and see why there is nothing better than coming home to a trilling meow or a cheerful bark.

1. Better Mental Health

Having a pet has been shown to reduce stress-inducing cortisol levels, increase feelings of support, boost your mood, and decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness. Pets also increase your dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin levels which make you feel happy.

Also known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin fosters the development of bonds with your loved ones, including your pet. Even better, research has shown that when dogs and their owners interact with each other, they both get a boost in oxytocin.

2. Higher Physical Activity Levels

One of the best health benefits of pets for seniors is increased physical activity. Dog owners are more physically active than other pet owners and those who do not own pets.

A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health discovered that owners who walk their dog are 2 ½  times more likely to meet the national physical activities guidelines that call for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week.

The American Heart Association also finds that both dog and cat ownership can improve your cardiovascular health. The benefits of pets for seniors go beyond owning a dog or cat. While they do not see as much of a boost, those who owned goats, snakes or fish also saw an increase in their heart health.

3. Constant Companionship

One of the best benefits of pets for seniors is that you are never alone. Whether you’re having a bad day, recovering from illness or surgery, or just need a good snuggle, your pet is by your side.

This became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when most older adults stayed home due to increased risk of developing severe symptoms. When many seniors were separated from their friends and family, their furry, feathered and finned companions were a welcome distraction when they felt lonely or worried about the pandemic.

4. Improved Sense of Purpose

From mealtime to playtime, your pets depend on you for everything. This provides an improved sense of purpose for older adults, when they are not sure what to do with all their extra time during retirement. In fact, the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging revealed that 73% of older adults reported their pet provided a sense of purpose.

Pets require structure and daily scheduling. You need to make time for grooming, feeding, playing and socializing. This kind of routine can be incredibly beneficial for seniors, because it can provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment every day.

5. Faster Recovery

One of the most unexpected health benefits of pets for seniors is they can help you recover from illness, injury or surgery faster. Along with helping their owners keep a positive mindset and distracting them from pain, pets motivate their owners to focus on getting better and be more receptive to treatments. That is because older adults are excited to get back to their usual routine and spend time with their pet.

A study by the American Heart Association found that dog owners may have better outcomes from a major cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke, because of the increased physical activity and companionship associated with owning a dog. However, the study also noted that unhealthy habits, such as smoking, can easily counteract this health benefit.

6. Pets Can Help You Mind the Moment

While it seems simple, the ability to be fully present, aware of authentic emotions and not overreact to stressful situations is no easy task. One of the best mental health benefits of pets for seniors is they can help you be more mindful, because they live in the here and now, and are unconcerned with worries about the future or thoughts about the past.

Increased mindfulness can lead to improved cognition, better self-control, enhanced concentration, increased mental clarity and boost your ability to relate to others.

When you spend a few moments goofing around with your dog, playing with your cat or talking to your bird, it reminds you to find contentment with where you are and what you’re doing, which can do wonders for your state of mind.

7. More Opportunities to Socialize

A collaborative study by TheUniversity of Western Australia, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition surveyed nearly 3,000 people from San Diego, Portland, Nashville and Perth, Australia, on how they meet people in their neighborhood.

They discovered that owning a pet was the third most common way people make social connections in their neighborhood. The survey also found that pet owners were 60% more likely to get to know new people in their neighborhoods than those who do not own a pet.

At Riverwalk Village, The House of the Good Shepherd, we have a pet-friendly campus with a dog run. Let your furry friend burn energy while you make new friends and catch up with your neighbors. You can also leash up your pup and take a walk on our paths along Musconetcong River and Stephens State Park. That way, you can exercise and socialize simultaneously.

Discover Pet-Friendly Senior Living at The Riverwalk Village

Providing pet-friendly senior living in Hackettstown, New Jersey is just one way they let residents enjoy retirement their way. To learn more about our senior living community in Hackettstown, NJ, contact our team members online, and we’ll be in touch shortly.