It’s no surprise that seniors who own a dog are more active than their peers without canine companions but new research has found that not only do dog owners walk more, they also score better on stress tests and have a greater sense of connection to their community.
Because we bond closely with dogs, owners often find they have a natural kinship with other pet parents and the shared interest makes connecting with others easier for older adults. Researchers from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, collected data on 771 men and women over the age of 50; a third of those owned at least one dog. Results found that dog owners had a lower body mass, less physical limitation and fewer visits to the doctor.
Pet ownership is also associated with lower blood pressure, lower cortisol levels (stress hormone) and even lower cholesterol levels. Perhaps it’s the extra exercise dog walking provides or it may be the comfort a pet offers that helps alleviate loneliness but there’s no doubt about it, dog ownership is a natural prescription for aging well. A dog is always happy to see you and offers unconditional love which has been linked with improved mental health including better self-esteem. In an empty nest, older adults can feel untethered and caring for a pet can return meaning and purpose to life.
Before rushing out to buy grandpa a new puppy, there are several consideration for matching a canine with an older adult.
- Can the senior afford the care of a dog – food, veterinary care, grooming etc.
- Can she/he physically care for a dog?
- Are allergies a concern? Some breeds are less allergenic.
- An adult dog is a good choice to avoid the cost and work of raising a puppy.
- Is the breed appropriate? Smaller, less exuberant breeds and older dogs from a shelter may be a good match. Mixed breeds can often have fewer health problems.
- Is the temperament a good match? Look for an affectionate, sociable, trainable dog.
- Is the dog house broken? Is it a barker? How does he/she walk on a leash are all important questions for older pet owners to ask.
- Consider purchasing training session for any new pet, it can help ensure safety and enjoyment for owner and dog.
To read more about adopting a dog in older age visit: http://petsfortheelderly.org .