02 October 2007

Seniors With Pets Tend to Have Better Health

About 60 percent of U.S. households have at least one dog, cat, bird or other companion animal. Veterinarian Tracy Wight reports that pets, particularly cats and dogs, help her older clients feel less lonely. They tell her it is like they have a special friend.

The data is clear that having a pet reduces blood pressure and even reduces the number of trips to see a physician. A 1999 study in the Journal of American Geriatrics demonstrates that seniors living on their own who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental well-being than those who don't. They are more active, cope better with stress and have better overall health. They also reported shorter hospital stays and less health-care costs than non-pet owners.

One other study found that the daily activities of living, such as eating and grooming, declined less for those with a dog or cat than those who had no pet. First, pets need walking, feeding, grooming, fresh water and fresh kitty litter, and they encourage lots of playing and petting. All of these activities require some action from owners. Even if it's just getting up to let a dog out a few times a day or brushing a cat, any physical activity can benefit the cardiovascular system and help keep joints limber and flexible. Consistently performing this kind of minor exercise can keep pet owners able to carry out the other normal activities of daily living.

Again, Wight reported that many of her clients tell her that taking care of a pet is a reason to get up in the morning and often a reason to get dressed and go for a walk. Second, pets also aid seniors simply by providing some physical contact, affection and companionship.

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