What You Should Know About Pet Ownership in Older Adulthood

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Studies have shown that pet ownership and other human-animal interaction significantly impact healthy aging. There are many strategies to help older adults improve their psychological and physical health, and one of them is to enable pet ownership for those who want it.

However, having pets at an older age can also be risky and challenging. Healthy aging demands active involvement in keeping fit, maintaining security and participating in society. Do the pros outweigh the cons, and if not, what are some alternatives?

5 Benefits of Pet Ownership

  1. Pets motivate owners to keep a healthy and active lifestyle.

There is a relationship between mobility and owning a pet, especially for dog owners who need to go for park walks.

  1. Pets help establish a structured daily life.

Regular meals, grooming and attention help owners structure their day with meaningful activities for self-care.

  1. Pets stimulate positive emotions and a sense of safety.

The pleasure from petting an animal is linked to our brain, which releases endorphins, or the happy hormone, making us less lonely, anxious and stressed.

  1. Pets allow their owners to make new social relationships.

Pets are excellent companions, but they also help set up other social networks, even with different age groups and communities.

  1. Pets provide well-being support.

Animals help reduce depression, decrease blood pressure and are often seen to minimize the adverse effects of grief when humans lose a loved one.

Risks and Challenges

Two out of every three American households include a pet. According to recent data, around 30% of older adults born before 1965 are pet owners, most pets being dogs, cats and freshwater fish. Each animal will have specific needs and risk factors, so it’s essential to be aware before deciding to adopt or own a pet.

  1. Responsible pet ownership can cost a lot of money. Unexpected veterinary bills and pet healthcare can be a financial burden for older adults in retirement.
  2. Attitudes toward pet ownership can vary significantly in assisted living. Older adults may be discouraged by their caregivers and doctors from keeping a pet if the health risk is higher than average. Not only can animals carry diseases, but they can also cause accidental injury.
  3. The quality of the pet-owner relationship relies on past experiences and is only sometimes guaranteed to be positive. Fear, trauma and allergies are common reasons people don’t desire to own a pet, so just because it has multiple benefits doesn’t mean everybody should start keeping one.

How to ensure animal welfare?

We inevitably experience a decline in physical health and strength when we age. Thus, caring for pets can become a challenge for older adults, resulting in animal neglect and, worse, the inability to take care of ourselves. When the owner downsizes the home, it’s possible that the pet may not have the ample space that it used to have before. Ultimately, older pet owners need to understand the potential animal welfare issues and be prepared to make difficult decisions about how the pets will be cared for if those needs arise.

Sources:

https://www.petsfortheelderly.org/our-work/research.php
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08927936.2019.1569907
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