National Pet Month takes place from 1st April 1 to 6th May, so what better time to celebrate how perfect companions pets can be in later life? Owning and caring for a pet has so many important benefits, especially as we age.
Whether we share our lives with a cat, dog, or budgie, pets are wonderful for our wellbeing and the perfect antidote to combatting loneliness. Experiencing loneliness can be one of the biggest challenges facing us as we age. Looking after a pet provides us with much-needed structure to our day; something many find difficult to maintain in later years. As we age, getting up in the morning can sometimes prove challenging, but looking after a pet gives us a purpose and a sense of self-worth.
When we walk our dog, or shop for pet food, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with others, whether we’re chatting about our beloved pets, the weather, or the latest TV programme. Pets provide us with many opportunities to connect with others, and regular social interaction and exercise in turn leads to improved cardiovascular health.
Recently in the House of Lords one of National Pet Month’s trustees NOAH (National Office of Animal Health) celebrated the way pets bring support and joy to older people. The event, hosted by veterinary surgeon peer Professor the Lord Trees, enabled charities and individuals to tell their own stories about how animals help older people with their physical and psychological needs and bring so much joy and companionship. Lord Trees said:
‘Continuing the relationship between pets and older people is not always easy; it could and should be so much easier. Animals are good to us, and as a veterinary surgeon it’s important to say that we must not forget that we must also be good to them’.
‘That means looking positively at ways that companion animals can continue to live with their owners, or continue to be looked after, when their elderly owner perhaps needs some help with living or care themselves…..’
According to research released by the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS), approximately a quarter of all people own pets. However, a significant number of UK care homes and sheltered housing complexes do not have robust and flexible pet policies, and many older people have to part with their pets. This can be extremely stressful and heart breaking for both pet and owner, and can have a devastating impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing.
SCAS is working hard to change this and wants to ensure older people can keep their pets with them when moving into a care home or sheltered housing. The Pets For Life campaign is urging UK housing providers to put in place responsible pet policies enabling older people to make an informed decision about their future.
Elizabeth Ormerod, past Chairman of SCAS says changes in regulations are needed:
‘We need housing regulations which allow the keeping of companion animals and to allow the presence of companion animals in care and residential centres.
‘It is within the gift of Parliament to ensure older people in the UK are no longer forced to choose between the housing that they need and the companion animal they love. The need to nurture is strong, correlates with good health, and should not be denied. SCAS calls for an urgent need to enact positive legislation to protect older people and their companion animals to support their health, wellbeing and quality of life and to prevent the unnecessary relinquishment and euthanasia of their animals…’
Statistics also show that pets help reduce blood pressure, heart rate and stress; stroking a pet or watching fish swim in an aquarium lowers anxiety considerably. It’s not just cats and dogs that can have a positive impact on older people’s wellbeing; rabbits and turtles have been known to have the same effect too. In recent years aquariums have been introduced into some UK care homes, improving behaviour in dementia units, as well as leading to improved appetites among residents.
Caring for our pets as we age can pose unique challenges and it’s important to think carefully before getting a pet, and learn about its special requirements. By following the steps below will help to make your pet companion as happy and healthy as possible as they share their life with you:
- Ensure your pet is sociable and well trained.
- Provide a nutritious and well balanced diet.
- Provide suitable housing and bedding.
- Clean up after your pet and worm it regularly.
- Protect against disease. Your vet can provide you with advice.
- Prevent unwanted litters and neuter your pet when appropriate.
- Groom your pet regularly.
- Control your pet and ensure it is properly identified.
- Take out pet insurance for dogs, cats, rabbits and horses to cover against unexpected veterinary fees and third party liability.
It’s easy to see why pets can be a great addition to our lives. They are good for us in so many ways. They make great companions, helping to reduce our stress levels and instilling a sense of calm, they help us stay active and encourage us to socialise with others: A winning combination for pet and owner.
National Pet Month takes place from April 1 to May 6, 2019. For more information and guidance on how to look after your pet responsibly, please visit: www.nationalpetmonth.org.uk