woman with cats

For some, it’s a sensitive debate regarding older adults and pet ownership. Some are in favor, some are against. Should older adults have pets to keep them company, or are there too many risks or hardships involved?

A review of studies published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2017 looked at the relationship between humans and pets in the older human population. With more than half of all households sheltering at least one pet, researchers wanted to determine the impact pets have on the health of the aging.

The compilation of studies found that animal-assisted activities are associated with a decrease in depression and an increase in overall life satisfaction. The companionship of pets has also been linked to reducing blood pressure, lowering heart rate, and assisting in faster mental recovery. And of course, having a pet has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety.

Man with two dogs

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We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support,” said Cathleen Connell, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, according to the University of Michigan.

Although the benefits of pets are significant, social connections and activities with friends and family are also key to quality of life across the life span,” she continued. “Helping older adults find low-cost ways to support pet ownership while not sacrificing other important relationships and priorities is an investment in overall mental and physical health.”

Therapy dogs have also been well-documented to help individuals undergoing a crisis, thanks to the feel-good chemicals released in the brain when petting a dog. With mental and physical benefits such as regulated breathing, reduced loneliness, increased relaxation, and diminished pain, studies suggest older adults would benefit from a furry companion.

Health benefits of pets infograph

Photo Courtesy: University of Michigan

A national poll taken by the University of Michigan on healthy aging questioned adults between the ages of 50 and 80. More than half of those polled had pets, as well as more than one pet. Of those polled who had pets, 79 percent reported reduced stress. More than half of the older adults with pets reported to be more physically active as well.

This study highlights the many physical, psychological, and social benefits that pets can have for older adults,” said Alison Bryant, Ph.D., the senior vice president of research for AARP, according to the University of Michigan. “In recognition of these health benefits, more assisted living facilities today are allowing residents to have pets.”

The benefits of having a pet aside, some are opting out of the furry friendship instead. In a recent household, income, and labor survey in Australia, results showed about 62 percent of Australians have at least one pet, but only 11 percent of pet owners are 65 years old or more, according to the University of Melbourne.

Man with cane and dog

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Why the decline in pet ownership? Older Australians cited financial reasons and freedom from responsibility, but many older adults are more afraid of what might happen to their pet if something were to happen to them, according to Dr. Janette Young, a researcher at the University of South Australia, as stated by ABC Radio National.

“People are making this careful and conscious decision which is actually largely focused on the welfare and well-being of animals,” Dr. Young told ABC RN. Furthermore, Dr. Young encourages those who want a pet, but are unable to have one, to consider volunteering in any number of animal-related activities, such as fostering, dog walking, visiting a shelter, or helping other pets in need.

So what are the risks of older adults and pets? As Caring.com points out, pets are expensive and often a bit of work. And though studies show an increase in physical activity connected to pet ownership, so does the data show an increase in falls and injuries.

woman with dalmatian

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Other downsides to pet ownership in the older population include being unable to physically care for the pet, take him to the veterinarian, or meet his daily needs. It’s also possible that older adults who have pets may delay getting help or moving into an assisted-living home if pets are not allowed, according to Psychology Today.

For the older adult who can’t decide whether having a pet is the right choice or not, perhaps the AI pet robot can fill the void. An artificially intelligent pet robot made a splash hit at the virtual 2021 Consumers Electronic Show, winning “Best Innovation.” MOFLIN, the pet robot, was awarded for its emotional intelligence and ability to adapt to its owner’s reactions. The creators’ mission was to create a robot that could enhance quality of life, in a furry way.

Real or not, it’s no doubt pets bring us comfort.