The correlation between pet ownership and our mental and physical well-being has been well-documented. Sharing our lives with dogs, cats, and other companion animals makes us happy, and has health benefits like lowering stress and blood pressure. But owning a dog and taking your best friend outside for regular walks and play sessions can be particularly beneficial for sedentary older adults.
A study published in the journal BMC Public Health examined the physical activity of seniors living in a retirement community, and compared the activity levels of dog owners versus non-dog owners. 43 pairs of dog owners and non-dog owners were studied, using both activity monitoring devices and detailed questionnaires.
The results? The dog owners demonstrated a significantly greater amount of time engaging in physical activity than those seniors who did not have dogs. They spent an average of 22 additional minutes per day walking. Measured in steps, they walked around 2760 more steps per day than the non-dog owners. The walking was of a moderate intensity. The dog owners also had fewer “sitting events” than the more sedentary non-dog owners.
The happy conclusion? In addition to the many mental health benefits of dog ownership, it can be an important way to incorporate regular, healthy activity into the lives of seniors.
Orphaned baby kittens need lots of tender loving care, and Tucson, Arizona’s Pima Animal Care Center has teamed up with the nearby Catalina Springs Memory Care Center in an amazing partnership that benefits both the kittens and the center’s resident seniors. The shelter brings the tiny kittens to be bottle-fed and cared for by the residents.
The heartwarming result? The kittens get lots of love and socialization, making them very adoptable and ready for their future forever homes, and the seniors enjoy cuddling and interacting with their foster fur babies. Check out this adorable video of the program in action!
Dogs and cats can provide much needed love and companionship for elderly people living on their own. But is there ever a situation when it may be better for a senior citizen to forego pet ownership? The experts at Harvard Medical School say that the answer is yes…in certain circumstances.
Studies show that people, including the elderly, can benefit both psychologically and physically from pet ownership. Dogs and cats provide us with emotional security by displaying unconditional love. Caring for a pet can also provide seniors with a sense of purpose, experts note. These psychological benefits can translate into physical benefits like lower blood pressure and increased “feel good” chemicals in the brain, not to mention the exercise you get from walking a dog or playing with a cat.
So what’s the downside for seniors? The Harvard experts note that having a dog or cat underfoot can pose a health hazard for older adults with gait and stability problems. Tripping over a pet can lead to broken bones in some cases. Seniors with weakened or compromised immune systems may be at greater risk for bacterial and parasitic infections carried by animals, as well as allergies.
What’s the best advice for seniors thinking about getting a pet? They should think honestly about their physical ability to care for a pet…and also their cognitive ability in the case of memory impairment. Pets can also be a big financial responsibility for people on fixed incomes.
Seniors who do feel up to caring for a pet should consider an animal that’s not too large or too small in size. Raising a puppy can be a challenge in terms of the time and energy needed to devote to training. Rescuing an adult pet from an animal shelter is a great option for seniors looking for a new best friend!