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The Power of Furry Friendship

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Your Next Pet Project? Get Social

If someone offered you a pill that could lower your blood pressure and anxiety, boost your mood and immunity, improve your social life, and reduce your doctor visits by 30 percent with very few side effects, would you take it? What if they said you didn’t have to take a pill to get all those health benefits? Good news: You don’t. You only need to make room in your life for a furry friend.

Ample evidence suggests that owning or spending time with animals can make a person happier and healthier. Research has shown that exposure to pets has positive benefits for older adults. We know that pet ownership is beneficial to psychological and emotional well-being and can enhance self-esteem while reducing the anxiety that can come with living alone or transitioning into a new living environment. Pets facilitate social engagement and stimulating connections. In addition, pet ownership has been proven to lower blood pressure, decrease the risk of diabetes, and significantly delay the physical decline in seniors.

Dog ownership is associated with higher levels of physical activity and lower rates of disability for older adults. Pets can also reduce depression and serve as barriers to loneliness and social isolation while helping individuals deal with stress. For example, the way a dog cocks his or her head or a cat’s loving purr in response to his owner’s voice can bring instant happiness. Giving your dog a loving pat on the head can bring a sense of calmness and an overwhelming feeling of contentment. Animals make us feel needed, and since we are wired for connection, this is important for all people but particularly for seniors.

Until fairly recently — the past decade or so — pets were considered problematic and potential barriers to care in some assisted living and retirement communities. Many older adults were forced to give up their pets as they transitioned from independent living into retirement communities, a devastating loss for people undergoing so much change. In light of the increased research about the health benefits of pet ownership, more and more independent and assisted living communities in the United States have become amenable to pets. All Spectrum communities welcome domestic animals and, as a result, residents — those who own pets and even those don’t — are benefiting.

Some of the most surprising research suggests you needn’t own a pet to get the benefits of furry friendship. Spending just a few minutes in the presence of animals can produce the physiological responses mentioned above — lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety, etc. So even if bringing a cat, dog, bird or fish into your home doesn’t interest you, spending time with your friends’ and neighbors’ pets can boost your health.

If you are considering getting a pet, there are several important factors to keep in mind.

Can you commit to the daily walks and playtime most dogs need? Are you physically able to clean a kitty litter box? Puppies and kittens are often energetic with higher care demands, so consider adopting a healthy older animal. Get a pet with an easy and friendly temperament that will interact well with other animals and people.

Pets can enrich our lives. Our bonds with them are healing and our connections with them offer us sources of unconditional love and comfort. Pets live in the moment and encourage us to do the same.

Looking for a pet?
There are many options from breeders to shelters and adoption programs that work to match seniors
with pets, such as The Pets for the Elderly Foundation, http://petsfortheelderly.org/.

 

 Louise & Maddie

 Louise And Maddie

 Don and Jeanette with Toby

 Don And Jeanette With Toby

 Michelle with Bella and Schmutzlie

 Michelle With Bella Aand Schmutzlie

 Lucille and Jordie

 Lucille and Jordie

 Peggy and Gabby

 Peggy And Gabb