Most pet owners will tell you how much they care for and enjoy having their animal friends. But actually there are many health benefits to having an animal around the house too.
Let’s list some of the findings from research :
Just owning a pet reduces blood pressure and the risk of coronary heart disease. One study even found that pet owners had a higher survival rate after a heart attack.
Dog walking is a super way for older adults to keep as a minimum mobile but usually quite fit. Studies show that dog owners are more likely to take walks than other seniors, have a lower body mass index, and an increased walking speed and distance capacity.
Dog walking also increases social contact. It gets you out amongst your community and dog owners often stop and chat. It therefore also helps with depression and loneliness.
Pets help us emotionally and mentally, especially people living alone and who may moreover be coping with bereavement or divorce. Obviously they offer companionship, but they are also a reason for getting up and about, and give a sense of purpose via the responsibility to care for them. Sometimes pets are felt as a real comfort in very dark times.
Biologically, studies have shown how interacting with animals can release hormones associated with pleasure – in fact one study showed that the effect was mutual, with both humans and dogs releasing endorphins when the dogs were petted. Another study revealed that when connecting with their dogs some women release a hormone similar to one produced when breastfeeding.
Recognising the benefits animals bring there are new ways in which they are being incorporated into senior wellbeing .. residential homes with pet friendly policies and volunteers visiting the elderly with their pets are just two examples.
Some of the more bizarre research has been undertaken on the beneficial effects of keeping chickens. Maybe this comes as no surprise to chicken owners, but keeping chickens has a calming effect, so much so that they are being used as ‘therapy chickens’ in some countries. Like other animals they can help to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and some interesting effects have also been seen on patients with dementia. People report that the sensory effects of the noise, sight and smell of chickens is what is so calming. What’s more, they are animals which do not usually activate allergies as dogs and cats can do; they are cheaper to keep; and of course produce eggs!
This research is all very interesting, but what if you feel unable to care for a pet in your home, much as you might like to? Well you can check whether your local community has any projects which bring animals, usually dogs, to you in your home as they are springing up in some places. If you are sufficiently mobile you might be able to offer to walk a friend or neighbour’s dog sometimes, or volunteer at a refuge. Also, whilst dogs and cats are seen as particularly important to seniors’ health, other animals like birds and fish can have a beneficial impact too and might be animals you could cope with.
If you are a pet owner already, then enjoy them to the full, it seems that they are as good as a dose of medicine.
This post was based on information in the following links :