Wet kisses and unconditional love are just the beginning when it comes to the benefits of pets, especially people over the age of 55. From reducing depression and lowering blood pressure to giving you a wonderful, tail-wagging reason to get out of bed in the morning, numerous research studies have shown the positive impact. But before you rush out to find your new best friend, let’s take a closer look at what to expect and what you should consider about pet ownership.

The Benefits of Fur Babies

The physical benefits of owning a pet include:

  • Motivation to Stay Active – A study published in The Gerontologist found that dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer daily activity limitations and fewer doctor visits.
  • Lower Blood Pressure – According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having a pet has the potential to lower blood pressure, especially in hypertensive or high-risk patients.
  • Decreased Stress – A study at State University of New York at Buffalo found that when conducting stressful tasks, people experienced less stress when their pets were with them than even when a spouse, family member or close friend was nearby.
  • Pain Relief – Loyola University researchers found the use of pet therapy while recovering from surgery helped people to need significantly less pain medication.

There are mental and emotional benefits as well:

  • Companionship – Social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day according to the AARP and living alone is one of the key risk factors. Having a pet can provide much that needed companionship and give you more social opportunities – dog park anyone?
  • Keeping Mentally Active – Initially you might think all that’s involved with taking care of a pet is a negative thing. However, it’s actually another way you can stay mentally active in which a growing body of research suggests could play a role in slowing memory decline.
  • Purpose – In retirement many struggle to find the usefulness they once felt in their career or when raising a family. A pet can once again offer that purpose, and taking care of them can improve confidence and self-esteem.
  • Living in the present – Retirees often worry about the what ifs of tomorrow – will you outlive your savings, what will happen to your health, who will take care of you? But pets luckily can’t think like that; they live in the moment and have a way of keeping your focus right there with them.

Considerations for Pet Ownership over 55

The owner and pet relationship should really be a two-way street with benefits all around so it’s important to consider the following before making that commitment:

  • Experience Owning a Pet – For people over 55, it’s usually best to at least have some experience in owning a pet before. That way it’s an easier lifestyle transition and you have a clearer understanding of what to expect.
  • Activity Level – Puppies are certainly cute but they need a lot of attention and exercise, much more so that older dogs or cats. And cats in general are more self-sufficient than dogs. If you have any disabilities or functional limitations consider how much you could realistically take on.
  • Allergies – This could potentially be a deal-breaker but there are dog and cat breeds known to be more hypoallergenic. Doing your research here beforehand would be well worth it.
  • Temperament – Just like there are some types of people you get along better with, pets are the same way. Make sure to look at the characteristics of different breeds and their personalities.
  • Finances – Pets can be expensive, from toys and food to supplies and vet bills costs can rack up pretty quickly. And it’s not just the initial costs you need to consider; pets are a long-term financial commitment.
  • Contingency Plan – Should you no longer be able to care for your pet it’s crucial to have a plan in place for a family member or friend to step in so they’ll always have the loving home they deserve.
  • Place of Residence – Do you live in a house? In an apartment? With your children or a roommate? Consider whether it’s practical to own a pet given your living situation. Also check for pet restrictions with your home owner’s association or apartment complex.

Pets in Senior Independent Living

There are many benefit to senior independent living communities  – amenities, activities, convenience, peace of mind – which is more and more people are moving to them at a younger age, while perfectly healthy. What you may not know is that many of these communities are also pet friendly.

And the added bonus is that some also offer assistance with dog grooming, walking and/or other pet services which can make the decision to become a pet owner even easier with this extra help onsite. Be sure to check with any senior independent living community you’re interested in for their specific pet policy.

If at the end of the day you decide against pet ownership, you may still be able to regularly enjoy the benefits of animals in your senior independent living community. Many communities offer pet therapy programs where animals from rescues, animals shelters or certified therapy dogs come in to visit with residents.

How to Find Your Purrfect Pet

If there’s a specific type of dog you’re interested in, breeders are certainly an option. There are also many wonderful animals looking for homes through local pet rescues and/or animal shelters plus the fees are often much more reasonable. Petfinder.com is a good place to begin your search and includes these groups as well.

Not a dog person? Although cats often get a bad reputation, they are wonderful pets as well. Don’t let that aloof demeanor fool you, they are loving, fun and loyal too! You might also consider fish or birds as well.

For more information on the benefits of pets in our senior independent living communities, contact us today to schedule a visit →