The Healing Benefits of Having a Pet
Have you ever considered getting a pet for your home? While caring for a living creature might seem like a lot to take on, there are plenty of health benefits that come with having a pet. Seniors who own pets have been shown to live longer, happier and healthier lives than those who don’t. Becoming a pet owner is a great way to ease loneliness and enjoy the presence of a roommate without having an actual roommate.
How Pets Encourage Healthier Living
Humans have always worked and lived closely with animals but it’s only in modern times that we have studied those relationships on a scientific level, developing a deeper understanding toward the connection between people and animals. Through scientific research we now understand how pets impact our health and body.
Some types of animals – horses and dogs especially- can be used for therapeutic support. Specially trained breeds of dogs are brought into hospitals and nursing homes for patients to visit with. Therapy animals are known for helping patients feel calmer and more at ease.
Animals love unconditionally and nurture an environment of safety and acceptance with their owners. This can be helpful for people suffering trauma, PTSD or depression. Most animals are deeply intuitive and can recognize when their human has become sad or withdrawn. It is often during this time they may come to comfort their owner.
Studies have shown that humans who interact with animals have lower levels of cortisol, the hormone in charge of our stress experience. Animal interactions have been known to positively affect people with conditions such as autism and ADHD, increasing both focus and attention span.
Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at NIH Clinical Center in Maryland, spends much of her professional life studying the dynamic relationship between pets and their owners. Mainly, she is curious what health improvements can result from the human-animal bond.
“The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness,” Berger says. “All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately.”
Animals have also been known to lead their humans into healthier lifestyles. The physical needs of a pet tend to increase activity levels in their owners as well. Dog owners find they are regularly outside more often to walk their dog. Over 60% of dog walkers meet the criteria for regular moderate exercise, and studies have shown that blood pressure reduces significantly in pet owners compared to non pet owners. In one 20-year study, it was found that cat owners were at reduced risk for heart issues; people without cats have a 40% higher relative risk of heart attack than cat owners.
What Should You Consider Before Getting a Pet?
Despite the long list of health benefits it’s still important to ask yourself a number of questions before committing to an animal. Dogs and cats can live up 10 to 20 years, meaning this could become one of the biggest relationships in your life. It’s important to assess and choose the correct type of pet for your lifestyle.
One consideration is financial. Along with the ongoing costs of feeding and grooming an animal, the costs of veterinary care and medications are also worth examining. Seniors who bring a pet into an assisted living facility have to consider the added expenses involved with animal care, and whether that is achievable considering other living expenses.
Another major consideration involves the time and effort to care for an animal. Some animals require an immense amount of attention and energy. Work dogs, such a herding dogs, are known for their ongoing energy and can be difficult for people who can’t keep up or who don’t have the time. Cats are usually less work, but younger cats or kittens will require more attention and play than their older counterparts. Guinea pigs and other smaller animals that live in cages might be more appropriate than a dog or a cat, depending on the situation.
If you are considering a pet, it’s wise to realistically assess how much time, money and attention you can give an animal. Visiting and talking with someone at a local pet store or animal shelter can provide you the necessary information to decide what pet is right for you.
Can’t Have a Pet?
But what if you can’t have a pet? Maybe they are too much work, not allowed where you live, or you’re allergic? There are many reasons people can’t have pets in their lives but that doesn’t mean they have to miss out on all the benefits of having a pet.
Modern technology allows us to simulate the pet-owner relationship with use of robotic animals. You can purchase robotic dogs that pant, bark, nap, wag their tails and even have an artificial heartbeat! The company Hasbro makes robotic cats and there is a Japanese company that builds robotic baby seals. These animal alternatives began showing up in nursing homes over the last few years and give residents an opportunity they never had before.
The robotic baby seal, named PARO, has become very popular in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Since it is classified as a biofeedback device, Medicare will cover its purchase and use by therapists. The results have been impressive; researchers who followed 61 patients with dementia found that short, 20-minute group sessions with a PARO led to a sharp decrease in reported anxiety and residents began taking less medications for pain and behavioral issues.
Other studies have found that robotic animals like PARO not only calm residents but also increase social skills, reduce feelings of loneliness, and improve both mood and appetite. Nursing homes around the country have reported great success from introducing robotic animals to their therapy offerings.
Pet-Friendly Senior Living in Seattle
Whether its real or robotic makes almost no difference, a pet can bring so many benefits to your life. If you or a family member suffers from loneliness, withdrawal, or depression, it might be worthwhile to consider bringing a pet into their life. Luckily there are many resources available to research and learn about what pets can best help.
Era Living communities are proud to be pet-friendly. You can learn more by calling the community nearest you for more information.