Besides signaling the hum of lawnmowers and conjuring the scent of a freshly coated driveway, a break from Spring showers brings the dog walkers out in droves. After a long, cold winter, neighbors can connect with one other and it’s often walking a dog that creates opportunities for older adults to chat with the people in their community. And while pets can help reduce stress, provide a sense of purpose and encourage seniors to stay active, pet ownership does have some downsides.
According to a recent University of Michigan Medicine study, most pet parents agree their fur baby provides not only companionship but also a reason to get up and move more each day. Having a pet can also give older adults a sense of being needed and talking about pets with another animal lover can be an ice-breaker that allows neighbors or dog park visitors to strike up a conversation. Older adults who live alone can sometimes go days without talking to another person and having a pet to walk creates important opportunities for social interaction, helping to prevent seniors from becoming isolated.
But there is another side to pet ownership; in a poll of pet owners between the ages of 50 and 80, 18 percent said having a pet puts a strain on their budget. Studies have shown that pets can help reduce stress and improve pain management but dog walking can also increase the risk for falls leading to injury. While pet ownership is usually a positive experience for older adults, worrying about the needs and expenses of a pet with health problems can cause added stress. According to the U of M study, more than half of pet owners polled said having a pet makes it more difficult to travel or spend time on activities they enjoy outside the home. One in six older adults said they put their pet’s needs ahead of their own; one in four if the pet has health problems.
There are other ways to enjoy the benefits of interacting with pets without taking on added expenses and ongoing responsibilities. Many animal shelters are in need of volunteers to walk and care for animals while they are waiting for their forever home. Some seniors will offer to pet-sit for family and friends, enjoying the companionship for shorter periods of time.
In pet ownership is the right fit, it’s important to first take care of your own health and use precautions when dog walking. Always take time to put on well-fitted, stable shoes and appropriate clothing including gloves. According to a recent BBC News report, wrapping leashes around the hand or wrist can lead to very serious injuries; retractable leads are especially dangerous if they become wound around hands, fingers or legs. Larger dogs should be kept on a short leash so they cannot gather speed and force that can cause injury to the owner. Don’t hook fingers under a dog’s collar, if they pull away with force, it may result in injury.
Stay safe, protect your health and give your pet an extra tummy rub today.