I am a crazy-ass animal lover. And, in my experience, we get far more than we give when we welcome an animal into our life. In fact, there is quite a bit of science-based and anecdotal evidence that suggests getting a dog – or another pet – after the age of 50 or 60 is a grand idea.
Exercise and Diet
First, there is the research: the Mayo Clinic found that dog owners are more likely to exercise and eat well, resulting in better cardiovascular health than those without a canine companion.
More Love, Less Stress
And speaking of companionship, a recent National Poll on Healthy Aging revealed that 88% of people who owned a pet (not a dog, per se) said that their pet helped them enjoy life, while 86% said that their pet helped them feel loved. Yes, loved. Similarly, 79% reported experiencing less stress because they share their life with a pet.
These findings may confirm what you already intuitively know, or they may provide further incentive to consider bringing a pet into your life. Given that more than 40% of seniors experience chronic loneliness, having a pet to love and to care for is worth exploring.
Seniors also report that their pets provide a welcome distraction from pain which, for some, is another type of “constant companion.” And, another study reported that a pet owner who looks into their pet’s eyes for at least five minutes can experience a release of the “feel-good” hormone, oxytocin. Ah, yes!
Okay, so on a more personal level, here are a few more very good reasons to have a pet:
Having a pet to love and care for gives many seniors a sense of purpose. With feeding, walking, grooming, and staying on top of vet visits and possibly meds, seniors have something to focus on, keeping their “cognitive muscles” engaged.
Along with all of that comes another benefit: a routine. Anyone who’s ever had a dog can attest to how their animal’s “paw watch” keeps track of time better than any other device, hands-down. If you are a reluctant daily walker, Fido can help for sure!
Meet and Greet
Dogs, in particular, support social engagement. With Fido prancing on his lead, he’s the icebreaker that even a shy or reserved senior can count on. And, with the need to get him outdoors part of the daily routine, repeated opportunities to engage with others emerge.
True Blue Companionship
But above all else, the best reason for getting a pet is the incomparable, steady companionship they provide. Some call it “unconditional love” another term for “priceless.”
Still on the fence?
It’s good to recognize your hesitation! Now go a little deeper:
Is it because you are commitment shy?
Concerned about your ability to care for a pet?
Are unsure about the long -term expense?
Don’t want to experience grief should they pass on?
That’s understandable. So, take it slowly, and consider the following next steps:
- talk to seniors like yourself who have pets and ask them about the pros and cons
- offer to dog-walk or pet sit to get a sense of what spending time with a pet is like
- volunteer at a shelter or rescue…but beware because you may just experience love at first sight!
“Pets, and dogs specifically, can be that wonderful opportunity for people to experience love.” – Kayla Keena