Anyone who has ever loved an animal companion could tell you that pet ownership improves the lifestyle and happiness of the owner. It is practically common knowledge that pets offer unconditional love and acceptance, combat loneliness, and ease unhappiness. Love and companionship are the hallmark reasons to own a pet. But researchers are finding the benefits go far beyond the warm fuzzy feeling of a cat purring in your lap.
For starters, taking care of another living thing is a fulfilling activity. It has been found that seniors actually take better care of themselves when they have another creature to take care of, too. Successfully caring for an animal has also been shown to increase self-esteem and help seniors lead more energetic lives.
But it goes deeper. A study in 1980 found that, for patients discharged from the hospital after a coronary event, pet ownership was the strongest social predictor of survival, independent of human relationships. Studies conducted since then have found that owning a pet actually decreases pulse rate and blood pressure and patients with pets make 21% fewer visits to the doctor. Regular visits with therapy animals have been found to reduce agitation and aggression in Alzheimer’s patients and improve their socialization.
It is interesting – though not surprising – that the choice of animal impacts the benefits reaped from pet ownership. Cat people reported higher self-esteem and overall well-being, while dog people were less lonely.
The far reaching benefits of pet ownership may have you thinking about bringing home a companion for your elder or ailing family member right away. Before you do, stop and think carefully. Not everyone wants a pet and not everyone is able to care for one. The idea of surprising someone with a sweet little puppy sounds appealing, but are you giving them the gift of love, or the gift of daily walks, cleaning, and training? Pet ownership comes with a lot of responsibility and shouldn’t be an unwelcome surprise. Discuss the idea before dumping a load of responsibility in someone’s lap.
Whether you are considering the pet for yourself or another, there are several factors to keep in mind. A major one is cost. Food, toys, medical care, and other expenses can add up; it is estimated that a medium sized dog costs about $620 annually to care for. A cat is about $575, and a small bird costs about $120 each year. There is also the expense of additional supplies you may choose to purchase, vet bills if it gets sick, and buying the pet in the first place. Also consider the age of the animal. Kittens and puppies are very energetic, so rescuing an older, calmer animal might be a good fit. Finding the right animal is significant; letting someone choose for himself is an important first step in establishing a bond between owner and pet.
In Japan, the robotic pet industry is being explored. Furry robotic seals are making their way into senior care facilities to keep residents company as well as collect data and monitor patient responses. Whether you prefer the living or the robotic, however, more senior care facilities in the US are recognizing the benefits of pet ownership and allowing residents to bring them along. Pet ownership may not be for everyone, but it would be a doggone catastrophe to discard the idea without first considering the benefits!
Amanda Dean is an expert in senior care with almost two decades of experience. After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in Human Development, Amanda was selected for the highly coveted role at NYU Langone Medical Center as a Geriatric Case Manager. She then founded and ran the largest independent local senior care advisory in NY for 12. Amanda joined Silver Living as the Senior Editor in 2012.