Your golden years offer freedom and fewer responsibilities, but it can also be very lonely as your loved ones move or pass away. You may also find it harder to leave your home and participate in activities you once enjoyed. The good news is there is something that can make your life better: pets. Pets not only make great companions, but they can also help seniors live more active healthier connected lives.
So if you’re retired, divorced, or widowed, consider keeping or interacting with a pet. You’ll receive plenty of benefits in return, including a longer and happier retirement.
The benefits of pets
Research conducted by Home Instead, Inc. confirms the benefits of pet ownership and interaction for older adults. Pets provide company (82%), comfort (77%), unconditional love (76%), plus entertainment and improved mood (66%). Also, without pets, 86% of seniors were lonelier and less happy and 58% weren’t as physically healthy. For those who lived alone, their pets gave them a sense of purpose (63%), someone to talk to (61%), and made them feel loved (75%). For those who don’t live alone, be warned: a recent survey has revealed that women are twice as likely as men to say they do more for their pets than their partner!
Though both couples and singles can enjoy the benefits of pet ownership, solo seniors benefited the most from having a pet. For example, after Paul’s (age 78) wife passed away, he and his dog Hank helped each other cope with their loss through constant comfort and daily walks. On the other hand, Penny who suffers from Addison’s disease was saved multiple times by her dog Bella, who can smell changes in Penny’s hormones that could cause serious side effects or death. Having Bella allowed Penny to get the help she needed in time.
Options for interacting with pets
Many seniors claim a pet can make your retirement years happier, healthier, and more fun, but you don’t need to own one to reap the benefits. You could interact with pets in other ways, such as at a family member’s home. Here are some ideas:
1. Buy or adopt a pet
Many elderly people in China who live alone have pets for emotional companionship. If you also live solo, you can buy a dog, cat, bird, fish, mammal (e.g., rabbit or hamster), or reptile (e.g., lizard or turtle) from a breeder or pet store. Even better, you could adopt a pet from an animal shelter, which may have a program such as MAPS that matches senior citizens with senior cats for an adoption fee of $25.
2. Get a robotic animal companion
If for any reason you can’t get a real animal, you can opt for a robotic cat, dog, or seal instead. You can buy it or rent it for just a few hundred dollars. A lot of the Chinese elderly have robot pets, who provide companionship as well as not having an ecological pawprint.
3. Spend time with someone else’s pet
Do you have a family member, friend, or neighbor who owns a pet? If so, you can drop by their place to interact with their pet, take it for a walk, or you offer to look after their pet when they’re away from home. You can also go to a park where you could meet people who are walking their dog and ask if you can pet and play with them.
5. Receive pet visits
If you can’t own an animal or are unable to go outside, you can receive a visit from a pet at your home or assisted living facility. For example, the Delta Animal Shelter has a Senior Snuggles program where shelter animals are brought to senior facilities in the area to interact with residents. The San Diego Humane Society and the Helen Woodward Animal Center also visit senior living facilities and private residences so seniors who can’t own pets can still enjoy them and reap the benefits.
Which option is best?
The advantages of pet ownership and interaction are undeniable, but before you adopt or interact with a pet there are some things to consider. This includes your needs, lifestyle, and commitment level; if you have an allergy or disease; and whether you have the money, ability, and permission from your landlord or nursing home staff to care for an animal. Taking these factors into account will help you determine the type of animal that’s right for you, as well as determine whether you can own a pet or if a pet visit is the better option.