The healing power of pets can be an amazing thing, no matter how old you might be. Whether you’re a dog parent, a cat parent, or if you simply come into contact with a therapy animal occasionally, furry pals can help bring joy into the retirement stage of your life.
No matter how often you encounter pets, there’s a good chance you could enjoy significant health benefits as a result. Here’s some information on those benefits, as well as how to go about deciding if a pet will be right for you as you reach retirement age.
The Healing Power Of Pets: A Therapy Animal Can Help A Person In Many Ways
There’s a pretty good chance you’ve seen a therapy animal before. You might have come across one of these beautiful, gentle creatures when visiting someone in a nursing home or hospital. You might have encountered one if you were a patient yourself. Service dogs, and other kinds of pet therapy animals, bring love to those who need it most, helping to brighten their days in the process.
Nursing and assisted living facilities may bring in therapy dogs or other types of animals for residents to interact with on occasion. Some seniors, for example, are going through mental distress due to feelings of isolation. Others are having a hard time because they recently lost a spouse. A therapy animal can often be a great way to bring someone out of their shell.1
Looking forward to a visit from a therapy animal can be an incredible boost to a senior adult’s mental and physical well-being.2
Companionship In The Retirement Stage: How Can Having A Pet Help Older Adults?
The healing power of pets simply can’t be underestimated. According to one study, pet owners tend to have better heart health. One of the possible reasons for this is that having a pet seems to boost the body’s response to stress. It also helps the body recover faster when experiencing stress.3
Whether you’re a dog parent, you have a cat, or you have some other type of animal, it seems that having a pet may help support cardiovascular health.
But the health benefits aren’t limited to your heart. A person who enjoys the companionship of a pet may also benefit from a hormonal standpoint. Studies show that interacting with a pet may stimulate the production of a hormone known as oxytocin, which helps calm the body. Petting dogs also inhibits the development of cortisol, which is often referred to as the “stress hormone.”4
Yet another study showed that when a human and dog interact in a loving manner, it stimulates production of oxytocin and another calming hormone known as dopamine. Not only do humans show these benefits, but dogs do as well.5 It’s a “win-win” situation.
Staying Active: Your Companion Animal Can Encourage Exercise And Staying Active
Staying fit is one of the foundations of continued good health. This is especially true as a person gets older. It appears that having a pet – particularly a dog – helps to stimulate physical activity.
One study compared a group of people who took walks with shelter dogs to a group who walked with other people. The results showed that the people who walked with the dogs showed improvements in the speed that they walked and also the distance they traveled.6
Researchers in a separate study found that people who regularly walked with a dog had a lower amount of body fat and had fewer limitations regarding their day-to-day physical abilities than those who did not. They also saw the doctor less often.7
Emotional Health Benefits: Companionship, Unconditional Love, And More Social Interaction
Having a pet may also do wonders for the mental health of an older person. Research indicates that as many as 40 percent of senior adults feel lonely on a regular basis. This, in turn, can lead to issues such as heightened stress levels and a lack of sleep. However, 72 percent of seniors who responded to a survey said that their pets help them deal with their emotional and physical challenges.8
A little more than 60 percent of respondents said their pet helps them stick to a routine. A whopping 73 percent said their pet gives them a purpose in life. This is incredibly powerful and important. As people get older, some may lose their sense of purpose. The structure and routine of caring for a pet might help restore this sense of purpose.9
What Are Some Of The Dog Breeds Best Suited To Older Pet Parents?
There are a lot of considerations that you’ll need to keep in mind if you are thinking of becoming a pet parent. You’ll learn more about a lot of them in the next section. One of the primary things to think about, however, is what kind of breed will be a good fit if you choose to get a dog. Here are a few of the breeds that tend to work better for older adults.
- Cocker spaniels – This is a very loving, intelligent breed of dog that is just as content cuddling on the couch as taking a brisk walk through the neighborhood.
- Cavalier King Charles spaniels – Look up “lap dog” in the dictionary and you might just see a picture of a King Charles. This breed loves to cuddle, is easy to train, and is very happy staying inside.
- Pomeranians – If you live in a smaller home, this toy breed could be just what you need. Pomeranians are not only gorgeous, they’re also very affectionate. While they might shed a bit, they typically only need a little bit of play and a daily walk.10
Other great breeds that might be suitable for seniors include:
- Miniature Schnauzers
- Lhasa Apsos
- Yorkshire Terriers
- Bichon Frises
How Can An Older Adult Find The Right Companion?
Even though there are a lot of advantages to having a pet, you want to put a lot of thought into the decision to get one for yourself or for an elderly loved one.
Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind.
- A person’s physical limitations – If an elderly person has physical issues, that could make it extremely hard to have a pet, such as a dog, that needs a lot of exercise. A person in this situation would probably be better off with a bird or a cat – an animal that doesn’t require as much maintenance.
- The health of the pet – It will also be important that the pet is healthy, so a vet will need to thoroughly check the animal before any sort of commitment is made. This is not only vital to the pet’s well being, but to that of the elderly pet parent. Having a pet with health issues could take a substantial emotional toll on an elderly person.
- The age of the pet – Bringing home a kitten or puppy might not be the best idea for someone who is older. Not only do they have a lot of energy, they also require a lot of care.12
This is in no way meant to dissuade anyone of any age from getting a pet. It’s just important to make sure the pet is the right fit. When you find the right one, get ready for years of happiness, companionship, and love.
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