It’s not all in your head. The sense of calm you feel when petting a dog or cat actually lowers your blood pressure levels. In a study by the American Heart Association, researchers found that cuddling with your pet can lower the rate of your pulse, and that pet owners may be less likely to develop heart disease.
According to AgingInPlace.org, spending even a few minutes with a pet causes a physiological change in humans. People often experience a strong bond with their pet, and the comfort of having your dog or cat around can make you calmer. The companionship between you and your pet can also help with loneliness, and the responsibility of caring for a pet can bring a sense of purpose to one’s day. These factors can improve your emotional wellbeing and even fight depression.
People experience physical changes as well when they spend time with pets. U.S. News says that taking your dog for a walk keeps aging adults active, and that dog walkers actually have better health results. The exercise you gain from walking your dog can lead to better heart health, lower diabetes risk, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. While on your walk, you might run into a neighbor and strike up a conversation, providing an opportunity to strengthen your relationships. Socialization and exercise can be a dream team for your health, and it all starts with grabbing the leash.
Unexpected health advocates
When family and friends visit your home, pets can be informants as to how you are doing:
Is the dog losing weight?
Is the cat’s litter box full?
Is the dog not going to the vet and having those hot spots treated?
Does the house smell like urine?
Is the animal going to the bathroom inside because you don’t feel good enough to let them out?
In the article 18 Signs Your Aging Parent Needs Help, author Dana Larsen writes that odors in your home may point to a bigger problem. Signs that you are having a hard time caring for your pet can indicate that you are struggling with your own health concerns, signaling to loved ones that you could use some extra help.
AginginPlace also tells us that pets can be vital helpers for people suffering from significant health problems, like Alzheimer’s disease or Sundowners Syndrome. When individuals wake up at night and, due to their confusion, want to leave home, having a pet nearby can motivate them to stay put, potentially saving them from a dangerous situation.
What if owning a pet isn’t an option?
Thankfully, owning a pet is not the only way to reap some of the health benefits that come along with them. Enter pet therapy. Programs like Therapy Dogs International facilitate at-home visits so that you can spend time with a pet even if you’re not in a position to take care of one. You may consider asking your doctor or a local social worker about a pet therapy program that is a good fit. In lieu of the COVID-19 pandemic, you might even be able to access therapy dogs virtually!