I know I’m dating myself by naming this article after a cute little song from my childhood but let’s face it, pets are amazing! Anyone who has owned a pet has experienced the unconditional love and companionship they provide but there are many scientific reasons that pet owners tend to be happier and healthier and actually live longer. Last year The National Poll on Healthy Aging polled 2,015 people ages 50-80. Results showed that 88% said their pets helped them “enjoy life” and 86% said their pets made them “feel loved”.
One of the biggest reasons pets can improve and extend our lives is that interaction with them produces lots of good feeling hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These hormones lower stress and anxiety and decrease the amount of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is a stress hormone and keeps the body in the fight or flight state, increased levels are linked to high blood pressure, weight gain, osteoporosis, and depression. Dopamine however regulates mood and muscle movement, it is a major source of the brain’s pleasure and reward system. Serotonin helps regulate mood, temperature, and appetite and is one of the hormones believed to be responsible for depression.
A recent Mayo Clinic study about heart health surveyed 1800 adults, 42% of whom owned a dog. The results found that those who owned a canine companion were more likely to live a heart healthy lifestyle which includes eating well, having ideal blood sugars, and exercising daily. Seniors are more likely to experience loneliness and isolation, a poll by AARP showed that 72% of pet owners say they help them cope with physical and emotional symptoms. A few other interesting survey results show that looking into a dog’s eyes for at least 5 minutes can give the body a boost of oxytocin which improves pain.Pets help seniors stick to a routine which after retirement is very important.
There are so many options out there for seniors to own or care for a pet that I don’t even room to mention them all but some great ideas could be rescuing an adult or senior dog or cat from a shelter, there are services who will literally just come out to pick up dog waste in the yard, hire a private caregiver to assist with walks, and trips to the vet. Even a beta fish alone in a jar could bring joy to a lonely senior, this is a good idea if they live somewhere that does not allow cats and dogs. If you can’t make the commitment to own a pet, consider fostering one which can even be done for a few hours at a time from a shelter. The possibilities for unconditional love are endless and I can say from personal experience, life changing. “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened” Anatole France.