Benefits of Pets

By on Jan 14, 2021 in News

Did you know that pets offer several health benefits for seniors? Furry, feathered and scale- friends have long received respect as dear companions. Pet ownership also offers direct physical and mental health benefits that are essential during quarantine.

Companionship comforts

Quarantine exacerbates feelings of loneliness and isolation that seniors may already experience. Pets, with their unique personalities, preferences and interests, offer seniors a companion when friends and family are unable to visit.

Pets ease feelings of loneliness and distress. Dr. Helen Louise Brooks and her team at the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom screened more than 8,000 articles and reviewed 17 papers on the subject. She reports,“Pets provided acceptance without judgment, giving unconditional support, which [participants] were often not receiving from other family or social relationships,” says Dr. Brooks.

Improve mental health

Pets should be included in patient care plans, particularly when diagnosed or self-reported mental illness is a factor. Dr. Kelly Rushton co-authored a study published in the journal BMC Psychiatry. She discovered that pet ownership resulted in several positive outcomes for patients’ mental health.

Participants living with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder reported improvement in symptoms. Study participants report that pets provide a sense of unconditional love while helping them manage their emotions. Patients who were subject to violent outburst experienced better self-regulation and fewer acts of aggression. Patients who used to fixate on the symptoms of their mental health found a positive distraction in their pet.

“We feel that pet ownership has a valuable contribution to mental health, so should be incorporated into individual care plans of patients,” says Rushton.

Improved mood + outlook

Caring for and interacting with a pet produces serotonin, the chemical hormone that promotes positivity and happiness. Serotonin is essential for mood stabilization and encourages a sense of well-being. The chemical enables brain cells and other components of the nervous system to communicate efficiently with one another, strengthening the mind-body connection.

Additionally, serotonin also facilitates healthy digestion and improved sleep, two key factors that contribute to senior’s ability to absorb nutrients, heal and enjoy higher quality lives.

Motivation matters

Many senior housing providers have had to limit group events and outings due to safety precautions. Seniors may find that they have less on the calendar. That’s less to motivate them to get out of bed, get dressed and put their best foot forward.

Pet owners find that they have greater motivation to live well. A study from the University of Michigan reports that 73% of seniors said their pets provide a sense of purpose. Why? They know that their pets depend on them to be walked, fed, cleaned and groomed. It can be fulfilling to know that they are able to care for another living being, and they look forward to walks and activities with their pets.

Making fitness fun

Pets, particularly dogs, require regular exercise. Trips to the dog park and walks around the property encourage owners to stay active while maintaining social distancing. Daily walks of at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, can reduce the risk for coronary heart disease by 19%. Walking also helps to strengthen the muscles that support their joints while lubricate the joints.

Seniors need vitamin D, which they can get from moderate sun exposure while exercising. Vitamin D supports healthy bones, teeth and muscles. The body also uses the nutrient to modulate the immune system.

Time in nature contributes to senior’s mental fitness as well! Seniors may experience improvements in short-term memory, a greater sense of creativity, and reduced inflammation which contributes to other pathologies.

Just enough germs

Social distancing and quarantine may result in a lack of exposure to germs, which can result in a more sensitive immune system. Our bodies need a microbiome of bacteria, viruses and fungi to stimulate and strengthen the immune system.

Pets, particularly dogs, are excellent at bringing in germs that activate the immune system without overwhelming it. Most pet germs are “non-transferrable” to humans, but their microbes are just enough to keep us healthy.