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Pets and Aging

Monday, February 19, 2018

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”

-Charles M. Schulz

The advantage of aging with a pet

You can't deny the many positive mental and physical health benefits of having a pet, but it can be a big commitment. Many older people want to have a pet, but some have concerns about outliving the animal or not being able to give it enough exercise. Here are some ideas to help you make the right choice about getting warm fuzzies from a furry (or feathered) friend.

Research shows that positive interactions with animals increase endorphins, oxytocin, prolactin and dopamine. These are the hormones associated with blood pressure regulation, pain relief, stress relief and joy.

Here are just a few of the proven benefits of pet interaction:

  • Less depression
  • Better sleep
  • More exercise
  • Lower risk of heart disease

The ownership problem

Potty training and keeping up with an active pet can be too much for some people. But you don't have to own a puppy or a kitten to experience the benefits a pet can offer. Birds, aquarium fish, ferrets or Guinea pigs all make great pets and you can train them to do tricks (even fish)!

If a dog or cat is your preference, there are other ways to bask in the warmth of four-legged companion. Think about adopting a mature pet from a rescue. Most pet rescue organizations have a harder time finding homes for older pets, so there is usually a good selection of adult pets from which to choose.

If exercise is a concern, look for a calmer breed, like the Basset Hound or Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Even a giant breed like a Great Dane or Bull Mastiff is worth a look. Despite their large size they do well living in apartments. They don't require much exercise, and will be a gentle, loyal, protective member of your family.

Visitors welcome

If pet ownership isn't within reach, you might try arranging a visit from a therapy animal team or finding somewhere to visit with pets. Some dog parks have areas marked exclusively for small or frail dogs. It's a great place to have contact with pets without the responsibility of owning one. At least one Minnesota animal rescue organization offers both therapy and hospice visits. For more information, search Animal Adoption or Therapy Animals within