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More Joy, Less Stress: Pets and Their Benefits for Seniors

Why do people bring pets into their homes? Some do it to teach their kids responsibility, some are craving companionship, some don’t plan to, but an opportunity to rescue a furry friend comes along. There are so many benefits to having a pet in the home. They can reduce stress, give a sense of purpose, and even make someone more physically active.


This applies to seniors, too. With children grown up and on their own, or the inevitable increase in time spent at home, seniors need purpose and partnership to take shape in other ways. Pets can fill that gap, providing joy, love, and new meaning to their senior owner’s life. According to a National Poll on Healthy Aging done by the University of Michigan, pets have an overwhelmingly positive impact. In this poll, older pet owners reported that having a pet helped them enjoy life (88%), made them feel loved (86%), reduced stress (79%), provided a sense of purpose (73%), connected them with others (65%), and encouraged physical activity (64%).


Having a pet can bring tremendous health benefits to a senior’s life as well. Another study by the University of Michigan found that 70% of older adults were able to cope with physical or emotional symptoms better with a pet. Additionally, 46% said their pets helped take their mind off whatever pain they were experiencing.


Walking their pets daily provided another health benefit. BMC Public Health found that dog owners walk 22 minutes longer on average than those who do not have a dog. Even a 20-minute walk can improve heart health, lower blood pressure, and relieve stress. For seniors, this can be a way to keep them focused on their health.


Some seniors need assistance with taking care of their pets, whether that be taking dogs for walks, driving their pets to the vet, or picking up pet food from the store. This is a great opportunity for seniors to connect with others who can help them with these tasks.


In general, having a pet is a great way to connect with people in the local area. Harvard Health Publishing found that being a pet owner is the third most common way that people meet in their neighborhoods. Pet owners are 60% more likely than non–pet owners to get to know people in their community. It is a great way for seniors to foster a sense of belonging and get that much-needed social interaction.


Beyond “regular” pets, there are also service and therapy animals to consider. When it comes to dogs, the Americans with Disabilities Act reports that an emotional support dog for elderly people can aid with a mental health disorder. From providing mobility assistance as a service dog, to a therapy dog giving comfort, these animals provide so many benefits to the lives of seniors. As we age, the positive effects of pets are numerous. Perhaps animals help us more than we help them!


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