Pets can play a major role in their owners’ emotional and physical health. This is especially true for seniors who can find companionship and a sense of fulfilment and purpose in caring for an animal. Pets of all types, whether they have feather, fins or fur, can improve the quality of a senior’s life — provided both the pet and senior are well-matched to meet each other’s needs.
Once you’ve entered retirement and said goodbye to working life, your days will need to take on a new structure. Having a pet can be a wonderful way to bring routine and structure into the day. Being woken by a cat softly patting your cheek to remind you they need their breakfast, or feeling a dog’s wet nose against your hand, urging you to play, can be lovely ways to be reminded that another creature loves and depends on you unconditionally.
These benefits become even more important for seniors, who may have lost their partner or live far away from family. According to studies by Swinburne University, feeling isolated or lonely are major contributors to poor health and can lead to poorer immunity and an increased chance of Alzheimer’s . In fact, such feelings can be deadly, considering the suicide rate per 100,000 is highest for men aged 85 years and over according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Pets can help their owners feel less isolated — whether it’s chatting with neighbours about your cat’s wanderings, or saying hello to the regulars on your dog’s favourite walking route. A social interaction doesn’t need to be deep or take a long time for it to help an individual’s mental health.
While they can’t provide advice, pets are wonderful listeners and can help with their owner’s mental health. Petting them is good for you too. Research from Victoria’s Monash University shows that petting a dog for a few minutes can release oxytocin in both the pet and the owner. Oxytocin is the feel-good hormone that bonds people and can positively influence mental health.
Owning a pet can also make an owner more physically active than they might be otherwise. Small incremental activities of caring for a pet – letting them in and out of the house, and feeding or grooming them can all add up to lots of beneficial movement.
There are many benefits to having a pet, but that doesn’t mean everyone should have one. There’s a lot to consider before making the decision to get a pet.
What seniors should consider before getting a pet
- Activity levels of both pet and owner If you’re used to going for a morning walk, then a dog that needs daily walks may be suitable. However, if mobility is an issue then it may be better to choose a pet that doesn’t need much exercise or any at all. Pets of all types can be good for their owners—birds, fish, guinea pigs and rabbits can all be a lot of fun and provide companionship, without the pressure of needing a lot of daily exercise.
- Age of pet and owner It’s a good idea to match your activity levels to those of the pet you choose. Mature animals will usually be house-trained, are likely to be less excitable than younger animals and have distinct personality traits that may complement yours. They can also have a lot of love to give but be less of a long-term commitment than a very young animal.
- Size of pet and home It’s important to match the size of your pet to the place where you live. Large dogs generally need fenced-in outdoor areas to relax and play, which may not be suitable if you’re living in an apartment or retirement village.
- Financial responsibility Aside from the initial purchase cost of the pet, and the associated paperwork and microchipping, you also need to be sure you have an annual budget set aside to cover their costs. Food, toys and grooming are regular costs, as are regular vet bills. Depending on your mobility and time commitments, you may need to have a dog-walker available and someone reliable who can look after your pet if you go on holidays or become unwell.
Having a pet can be a wonderful contribution to your quality of life. If you carefully consider all of the options and meet a pet you want to welcome into your life, you can look forward to lots of laughs and the comfort of looking after someone who will also look after you.