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The Ohio Department of Aging

Ohio Department of Aging Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

Boomerang: It all comes back to you!

My Family - October 2010

Growing older with our pets
Pets are great medicine, but adoption shouldn't be taken lightly

People who keep pets tend to live longer than those who don't. Research has shown that pets can help make significant changes in a person's health, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and feelings of stress, while increasing activity levels, alertness and a sense of responsibility. Studies also have shown that pets aid in recovery; for example, people who have suffered heart attacks tend to recover more quickly and more fully when they have the company of a pet. However, the biggest benefit that pets offer their owners, particularly older owners who live alone, is a cure for loneliness. Love is the most important tonic we have, and pets are one of nature's best sources.

Caring for a cat or dog helps people overcome the depression or loneliness that sometimes comes with age and isolationAccording to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, caring for a cat or dog helps people overcome the depression or loneliness that sometimes comes with age and isolation. Whether they've recently lost a loved one, they don't have any friends or family nearby or physical limitations make it difficult for them to get out much, older individuals who care for a pet experience an enhanced feeling of companionship and purpose. Pets can give an older adult a great sense of self and help increase self-esteem since pets need and rely on their owners for virtually every aspect of their care.

Pet owners also benefit from the unconditional love and affection their pets give them. Just the presence of a pet helps older adults realize they are not alone. Additionally, having a pet, especially a dog, can give seniors a sense of security and reduce feelings of vulnerability just by the barking, which can keep unwanted visitors away. Keeping a dog who can warn of intruders can provide a source of comfort for many people.

While having a pet can be good for some seniors, don't rush out and buy a dog or cat as a "surprise" for an older adult. Pet ownership is a big responsibility. Discuss pet adoption and ownership with anyone before you get them an animal or if you know they are considering one. The American Humane Society offers some suggestions for older people and families considering a pet:

  • Let the person choose their own pet. Pet adoption is like dating - there has to be some chemistry or it won't work.
  • Fit the pet to the person's lifestyle. Does the older person enjoy going for walks? If not, then a dog probably would not be a good choice.
  • Consider an older animal. A mature animal is likely to be calmer, which may be a good fit for an older adult. Check out your local animal shelter or animal rescue group for more mature companions.
  • Look at the person's overall health. Having a larger dog requires more physical strength and agility to handle it, so talk about which type and size of pet will result in the most successful pet adoption.
  • Make a plan for someone to care for the animal if the owner becomes sick and unable to do so.
  • Consider the costs. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the average annual cost of pet adoption (including food, toys, treats, veterinary care and licensing) can run from $20 for fish and $120 for a small bird, to $575 for a cat and $620-780 for a medium to large dog.

Pets can have a positive impact on their owners' lives. Living alone can be difficult for anyone. With a loving pet by your side, you are not alone.