We are constantly being bombarded with good advice on how to stay healthy and live longer by eating a good diet and taking plenty of exercise. However, there are other ways to keep your body and mind in good condition and one is to keep a pet.
Studies have shown that forging a relationship with an animal can have benefits both physical and psychological. Interacting regularly with a pet can lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety.
A Cambridge University study showed that pet owners reported fewer headaches, coughs and colds. Also, according to the Pet Health Council, stroking a dog or cat can reduce the heart rate, thereby helping to lower blood pressure.
Also, people with dogs tend to get more exercise from regular walking. It’s amazing how much better we all feel for a daily stroll and evidence shows that even just 20 minutes exercise a day reduces illness and extends life expectancy in most people. By developing a connection with a pet, whether it be a dog, cat, snake or rabbit, having a bond with your pet can provide you with a reason for appreciating life and connecting with others. This can be especially important for older people who can be socially isolated or struggle with finding a sense of purpose. Loneliness, can have, as we are constantly reminded, a very damaging effect on quality of life as we age.
Owning a pet can help to give a motivation for life. It helps people feel needed and wanted. A dog who greets you with a wagging tail or a cat curling round your legs purring can be very welcoming. Talking to your pet also seems more acceptable than just talking to yourself. If a cat or dog is too expensive or restricting if you go away, consider a more low-maintenance pet like fish as even they can provide mental and physical benefits. A recent American study has shown that people with Alzheimer’s disease are calmer, focus better on eating, and digest their food more easily when they eat their meals in front of a fish tank.
Owning a pet, particularly those that live for a significant number of years, is a serious responsibility. Many cats now live into their late teens or beyond. Therefore it is essential that you think carefully before taking on an animal, and choose a pet that suits your lifestyle. For instance, some dogs require more exercise than others, and it’s not necessarily related to size, so do your research if you’re considering a canine companion. It’s not fair to take on a dog if you are not going to give it sufficient exercise as it will get bored and frustrated and may then develop behavioural problems.
The cost of keeping animals is also an important consideration. The 2012 PDSA Animal Wellbeing Report revealed that a dog or cat will cost its owners an average of £30 a week during its lifetime, Vets bills, vaccinations, flea and worm treatment, and of course food, all add up so it’s essential that you are able to cope with the cost. Insurance is also very important to cover your pet in case of illness or injury and the cost of this must also be factored in.
Rather than a puppy or kitten think of getting an older animal from a pet rescue centre. This will avoid you having to go through the training of your pet which can be quite time consuming. Don’t forget to register your new pet with a Veterinary Surgeon and arrange to get it checked over shortly after its arrival to make sure it has no hidden problems.
An important consideration for many older pet owners is what might happen to their beloved animals should they need hospital treatment or if they have to move into a care home.
If you aren’t ready to commit to taking an animal into your home — it’s too expensive or too much of a commitment — there are other ways to benefit from the animal/human connection. Head into nature and look for birds or other wildlife. Another option is volunteering at an animal shelter or pet sitting for neighbours or family members who are going on holiday.
Animals are calming, accepting friends that offer unconditional love and kindness, as well as many health benefits.
Do you have a pet? Have you found that your life is improved by it? Are you worried what may happen to your pet if you cannot look after it anymore?