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7 Ways Pets Can Help with Healthy Aging

Companion animals may help reduce depression and loneliness in socially isolated homebound adults. (Photo licensed to The Zebra Press, LLC)

Pets provide companionship, but the benefits of being a pet owner go well beyond simply alleviating loneliness. Research suggests owning a pet can reduce stress, lower heart rate and blood pressure, and may even help prevent certain illnesses. As you get older, owning a pet may help you stay sharp and could provide other mental health benefits as well.

Being a pet owner is a big responsibility but it’s well worth the time and effort. Here’s what you need to know about how pets help with healthy aging.

How Pet Ownership Improves Health

Scientific discovery is on a perpetual march forward and one of the most fascinating up-and-coming fields of study is anthrozoology. Also known as human-nonhuman-animal studies (HAS), anthrozoology is a subset of ethnobiology that focuses on the interaction between humans and animals. Because it overlaps with other fields like psychology, anthropology, and zoology, it is considered an interdisciplinary field. One of the primary focuses of anthrozoological research involves studying the positive effects of human-animal interaction.

The field of anthrozoology has grown steadily over the past few decades and research in the field has yielded fascinating insight into the bond between people and their pets.

Here are some of the science-backed benefits of owning a pet, particularly in older adults:

  1. Being a pet owner may protect your cardiovascular health. The results of a 12-year study published by Scientific Reports suggest down ownership may be correlated with a lower risk of death due to heart disease. Single dog owners showed an 11% lower risk of heart attack and 33% lower risk of dying than non-dog owners.
  2. Having a pet can reduce loneliness. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Mind and Medical Sciences revealed that companion animals may help reduce depression and loneliness in socially isolated homebound adults.
  3. Owning a dog may help keep you active. The results of a 2017 study published in The Gerontologist suggest dog walking was associated with lower body mass index (BMI), fewer doctor visits, and more frequent exercise.
  4. Being a pet owner may protect your cognitive function. A study published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science revealed that pet ownership was associated with improved cognitive function in older adults. Dog ownership was particularly associated with better physical function while cat ownership predicted stronger cognitive function.
  5. Having a pet can help you maintain a routine. Pets require daily care which typically involves sticking to a daily routine for feeding and exercise. Having a routine can be beneficial for you as well, helping reduce stress levels, improve sleep, and boost health and happiness.
  6. Being a pet owner may mean fewer doctor visits. Many people experience a decline in health with increased age, but that doesn’t have to be the case. According to report by DVM360, pet owners visit the doctor 0.6 fewer times than people who don’t own pets.
  7. Owning a pet provides a sense of purpose. Numerous studies show that pets have a positive impact on social support and psychological well-being in general but having a pet may also provide you with a sense of purpose as you get older.

Take full advantage of the benefits pet ownership provides by including your pet in your daily life. Alexandria offers a wide variety of pet-friendly activities from dog-friendly bars and restaurants to pet-friendly hotels. You can even bring your dog to certain attractions like Mount Vernon.

Age Gracefully with the Help of Your Pet

Your pet provides unconditional love and affection without asking for anything in return. If you hope to enjoy the benefits of pet ownership well into your golden years, it’s your responsibility to care for your pet properly. That means providing a balanced diet, healthy exercise, and routine veterinary care.

Here are some simple tips to keep your pet healthy:

  • Help your pet maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a serious concern for pets as well as people, so watch how much you feed your pet to help him maintain a healthy weight.
  • Provide a nutritionally balanced diet. Take the time to learn about your pet’s nutritional needs and choose a high-quality, nutritionally balanced commercial diet or make your own.
  • Make sure your pet gets plenty of exercise. Healthy diet and exercise go hand-in-hand in supporting your pet’s long-term health and wellness so make sure your pet stays active.
  • Take your pet to the vet once a year. An annual checkup is just as important for your pet’s health as it is for yours, so take your pet to the vet at least once a year.
  • Keep up with annual vaccinations. Vaccines are an essential element of preventive care for both people and pets, so be sure to vaccinate your pet against potentially deadly diseases like parvo, rabies, distemper and panleukopenia.
  • Treat your pet for fleas, ticks, and heartworms. Protect your pet against parasites and the diseases they transmit with oral or topical preventives like flea collars and heartworm pills.
  • Have your pet spayed or neutered. Having your pet spayed or neutered not only helps control the unwanted pet population but may reduce the risk for certain cancers.

While pets provide companionship which is invaluable for your mental health, it’s still important to get support when you need it. If you’re suffering from depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, talk to your doctor to discuss treatment options. You might also consider online therapy as a convenient and affordable alternative to in-person therapy and a means of getting the help you need from home.

People have always had a special bond with their pets but now more than ever. As you get older, having a pet in your life may help you maintain mental acuity, not to mention providing companionship. Just be sure to care for your pet properly to make their life is as happy and healthy as they make yours.

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