How Pet Ownership or Animal Therapy Can Lead to a Better, Happier Life
Anyone who owns a pet knows how rewarding it can be. From the wet nose “kiss” of a cat to the head-to-toe wag of a dog, to cuddles at bedtime, the unconditional love and companionship of a pet can’t be beat. Whether engaging in pet therapy or having a pet of your own, the benefits of engaging with pets are proven.
Studies have been conducted to research how pets improve the quality of life of their owners, and there is medical evidence that shows there are numerous physical and mental benefits to engaging with animals. That’s especially true for seniors. Here are five great reasons that prove engaging with pets leads to a happier life.
1. Pets help lower your heart rate and blood pressure.
Petting, playing with, and watching animals have been shown to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, and reduce the occurrences of chronic conditions. The American Heart Association confirmed that owning a pet can lower cholesterol, lessen your response to stress or reduce obesity. It also confirmed dog ownership could lengthen the lives of those with cardiovascular disease. For Seniors dealing with chronic conditions, reducing these risk factors can lead to better quality of life.
The physical action of petting an animal releases serotonin, which soothes the person doing the petting. Interacting with a pet (even a fish or guinea pig) can decrease cortisol, a stress-related hormone. For those who can’t own a pet themselves, pet therapy can provide this soothing stress-reduction. And we all know most interacting with animals smile and laugh more, which is always good for the heart.
2. Pet ownership leads to increased exercise.
A dog that needs to be walked outside for bathroom breaks and play time is a great motivation for people to get outside for some fresh air and exercise, to go for walks or throw a ball. Playtime also becomes an opportunity to socialize, as well as petting or talking to someone else’s pet. Cats require regular litter box maintenance, which means getting up and getting moving. In contrast, people without a pet are less likely to self-motivate toward physical activity.
And for many relying on pet therapy for their animal fix, animals are better motivators than people when it comes to encouraging them to move. Seniors with mobility limitations in particular benefit physically when they find themselves engaging with a pet. Doctors have even found that having a pet can lead to a reduction in pain medication for patients who are undergoing pain management therapy. Pain management experts also cite the power of movement in reducing pain. So get walking little Augustus or cleaning Alfie’s litter box to help you stay pain free!
3. Owning a pet instills a sense of purpose.
Seniors who participated in studies about the benefits of pets for humans often described feeling a sense of purpose when caring for their pet. The routine of feeding, cleaning, brushing and all the activities around caring for a pet who depends on them become reasons to get up in the morning, and incentives for owners to stay healthy. They feel needed, valued, and rewarded for the care they give with the cuddles and undivided attention they receive from their pets.
As humans, we’re also wired to seek attachment – whether that’s to other humans or to our furry friends. An animal’s unconditional love feeds that need for attachment – both with our own pets and with therapy animals. Staring into the eyes of our pets can release oxytocin, the chemical that makes us feel happy and connected, in our brains. And even better, it stimulates oxytocin in our pets, too.
4. Pets reduce stress.
Having a furry or feathered friend by your side can also reduce the risk of depression and loneliness. Watching fish swim in a tank or birds hop from swing to branch has a similar effect, in addition to stimulating the mind as the watcher follows the animals around their environment. Seniors also say that their pet becomes a confidante, someone to talk to and share secrets that they won’t tell anyone else.
Pet therapy is also shown to help people struggling with Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia to reduce stress and agitation. Studies have shown that just 5 to 20 minutes of interacting with an animal can reduce fear and anxiety. And animals can provide emotional stability in times of stress.
5. Pets give us comfort and sense what we need.
It is well-documented that animals have an ability to sense the emotions of humans. A dog sensing sadness might lay its head in your lap, or bring you a ball and nudge your hand with its nose, asking to play. A cat might curl up beside you, with a paw on your hand, or a nudge looking for affection. An animal’s sensitivity to a person’s mental state can be an especially dear blessing for someone with limited speaking or ambulatory ability, by providing them comfort that other humans can’t sense.
Dogs especially are known for sensing medical needs. Some help those with epilepsy avoid seizures. Others know when their owners are sick and push them to take care of themselves (sometimes by literally pushing them to bed until a fever has broken). Some doctors even report better memory recall in Seniors when engaging in pet therapy.
Considerations for Pets and Seniors
Though there are many benefits to having a pet, there are also some things to keep in mind when considering a pet companion for a senior.
A dog requires physical activity and care, being taken outside for bathroom breaks. A larger or more active breed of dog might need outdoor space, like a backyard, to roam in, or a higher level of activity that a senior could not keep up with, and would not be suited to the living arrangements in a senior living community.
Cats are more independent and require less physical investment from its owner; except for keeping your lap clear for frequent naps.
Younger dogs, cats and birds can be very energetic and quick, and are more prone to getting into mischief. A fish tank or bird cage will need to be kept clean.
All pets require a financial commitment for food and supplies and veterinary care, and senior animals tend to require more frequent veterinary care.
If it’s not possible to have a pet of your own, consider pet therapy as an option to reap all the benefits of interacting with animals.
Pets Welcomed at Cadence Living
Cadence Living communities are pet friendly. We welcome newcomers to our communities and encourage them to bring their pets along. We also encourage residents to consider adopting a pet when it makes sense for them to do so. We are proud to participate in much loved and welcomed pet therapy programs for our residents who are unable to care for an animal on their own. There’s a pet policy and rules to follow for the benefit of all residents, but most dogs, cats, birds and fish are welcome to become pet residents alongside their favorite human.
Though we’ve limited our list to five reasons animal friends make our lives better, we know from experience they bring even greater enrichment to our lives than we’ve listed here. To find out more about how pets and pet therapy have been integrated into your Cadence Living communities, contact your local community director. And whatever animal friend you choose, we wish you good health and joyful living!
Cadence Living owns and/or operates communities throughout the “Southern Smile” states, from the West Coast along the South to the Mid-Atlantic. What sets Cadence apart is the company’s devoted approach to creating healthy, vibrant communities that offer residents exceptional independent living, assisted living and memory care lifestyle options. The name “Cadence” underlines the company’s personal philosophy that each community should aspire, create, and respond to life’s natural rhythms to enliven and enrich the experience of residents. For more information on Cadence Living, visit www.CadenceSL.com.