Happiness with Pets
Many senior citizens and baby boomers will agree that “happiness is pets!” There’s a good reason why: aging pet owners experience physical and emotional health benefits from having a pet that they may not even be aware they are experiencing.
Here are just a few of the health benefits of having a pet:
Reduced stress and anxiety
Pet owners will tell you how great they feel when they are greeted and spend time with their loving pet. Pets show unconditional love. Our pets are there for us when we need them, even when others in our life can’t be there for us. We can talk to our pets, share our innermost thoughts and feelings, and not worry about rejection. The mere act of petting releases naturally occurring chemicals into our bodies that calm and soothe our nerves.
Lowered blood pressure
The same chemicals that are released when we pet our faithful companions are also the ones responsible for helping lower your blood pressure. In fact, one study found that pet owners on medication for high blood pressure, were less likely to experience spikes in the blood pressure and heart rate, than those that did not have a pet at home. Maintaining a steady and healthy blood pressure and pulse decreases your risk for a heart attack or stroke. Research has also shown that those individuals that experienced a heart attack had a longer survival rate if they had a faithful and loving pet they had bonded with when they returned home.
Pets become part of the family. They provide companionship and help to alleviate loneliness and depression. It is hard to be in a bad mood when you have a pet. Every time you enter your home, or even a room, your companion will greet you, even if it is just to look up and acknowledge you are there. They keep you company and keep you active. Having a pet means taking care of your friend. That may mean anything from walking, feeding, or even just cleaning out the litter box. Whatever the activity, the animals in your life make you take an interest in living.
Better heart health
Having pets decreases stress, anxiety and depression. A pet in your life also promotes physical activity and emotional well-being. The companionship of a pet promotes emotional and psychological stability. There is a link between the chemicals released when enjoying your pet and the lowering of cholesterol and triglycerides. Studies show there is a link between pet owners and a decrease in heart disease versus non-pet owners.
Enhanced immune system
Pet owners experience decreased stress and improved mood and emotional well-being. This causes an increase in your ability to fight off or prevent illness. Research studies show that pet owners are less likely to visit physicians for trivial illnesses. (The study did not address the question of whether pet-owning seniors were sick less often, or just did not see a need to seek medical attention for their minor illnesses.) There are insurance companies that now ask applicants over 75 years old if they have a pet, as part of their pre-screening process. Surprisingly, if the answer is “yes,” the insurance company looks more favorably on the applicant.
Better balance in life
Pets offer intangible benefits to our lives. They offer social interaction, even if it is just between the aging senior and the pet. If a senior is walking a pet, it is not unusual for someone to interact with the aging senior to ask about their furry companion. Pets offer relief from loneliness and promote physical activity as well as mental stimulation.
There may be skeptics out there who believe pets don’t make you feel better—but science now confirms that having a pet enhances the physical and emotional well-being of the owners.
Top Dogs for Retirees
Always remember: There are good dogs and bad dogs in every breed. It’s important to remember that individual dogs within breeds can demonstrate their own, unique personality traits. Some breeds that generally work well with the elderly include:
Pug. For such a small dog, there’s a lot of love stuffed into the pug’s body. A clown by nature, the pug demands attention and adoration, but returns both in greater measure. They love to play, but the pug also enjoys a good lap session as much as the next dog.
Schnauzer. The standard and miniature schnauzer are wonderful pets for seniors. Eager to please and to keep his family safe, this breed usually requires regular grooming and daily exercise. They thrive on human companionship.
Scottish terrier. This working dog from the Scottish Highlands weighs around 15 to 20 pounds. Most often black, the Scottie is highly intelligent and needs daily exercise. Tough and compact, the Scottie is a loyal and protective family member.
Shih tzu. Proud and intelligent, the shih tzu is from Tibet and China, where the name means “lion dog” because of the breed’s appearance. The breed is alert, curious and gentle and thrives on human companionship.
Yorkshire terrier. The Yorkie is a tiny dog with lots of spunk. This breed is happy to spend his days lounging on the sofa, but this calm dog requires regular grooming.
Cocker spaniel. The popular cocker with his curly hair and sad eyes is a good choice for seniors. Needing basic exercise, the cocker usually spends his days lounging and waiting for his owner’s return.
Welsh corgi. At about 25 pounds, the Pembroke Welsh corgi is a popular pet. This stocky short tailed breed needs daily exercise but does not require a large living space.
American Eskimo. Descended from the German “Spitz” line of dogs, the American Eskimo was bred from ancient times to watch over people and property. The Eskimo is a small- to medium-sized dog that bonds closely with his family and tends to distrust strangers.
Boston terrier. Small, muscular and compact, the Boston terrier is one of the few truly American breeds. They are gentle, friendly dogs that are protective of family and home. This natural guardian instinct helps keep his senior owner feeling safe.
Chihuahua. The Chihuahua is a small dog with a big bark. He will bark vigorously, as if they are trying to make up for being just 6 to 9 inches tall and weighing under 5 pounds. They are excellent pets for senior and you will know when someone’s approaching the house.