Does Owning a Pet Help You Live Longer?

seniors and pets

As pet owners have attested for hundreds or even thousands of years, a furry companion can make life much more enjoyable. There has long been anecdotal evidence that cats and dogs can help you live longer, be healthier, and stay much more active. Now science has confirmed what we all knew from the start: that your pet can give you a much better quality of life.

The American Heart Association published the results of two studies in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. These studies prove certain points, including:

·         Those who own a dog tend to live longer than those who do not

·         Dog owners often recover better from major events, like a stroke or heart attack

·         Better recovery times hold true especially if a person lives alone with their dog (or dogs)

·         If dog owners do have a heart attack or stroke, they are less likely to die from the event

There are countless other studies that prove what our pets do for us. For instance, the National Poll on Healthy Aging by the University of Michigan found that 79% of older adults look to their pets for stress relief, while 34% feel a reduction in pain, and 73% feel an important sense of purpose with their pet around.

The sense of security you can feel with your pet nearby can be amplified by the use of medical alert technology – especially since you know that the technology isn’t just for you, but for your pet as well. If you happen to suffer a fall, you want to make sure your pet is taken care of just as readily as you are – a push of a button can ensure that. After all, your pet gives you so much, it makes sense to give it a little peace of mind too.

Why Does Owning a Pet Affect Our Health?

There are many reasons why owning a dog or cat can affect our health, but the biggest reason is very simple: they just make us feel good.

When we interact with dogs, the production of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine can increase. These are the “happy hormones” that keep us feeling calm and give us a sense of well-being. In addition, an influx of those hormones can lower the stress hormone cortisol, which can improve our mood even more. You might even notice lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and an easing of depression[1].

Exercise is vitally important to stay fit as we get older. Those who own dogs often get much more exercise than those who don’t, for obvious reasons – dogs must be walked! They can also help reduce anxiety and offer opportunities to interact with others. (Don’t forget to wear your on-the-go medical alert pendant with fall detection when you’re out on those important walks!)

But what about cats? Not to be outdone in the dog vs. cat wars, studies have proven that stroking a cat’s fur can lead to stress relief, lowered anxiety, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and a feeling of well-being[2]. According to Medical News Today, owning a cat can reduce the risk of a heart attack by up to 30 percent.

As an added (and adorable) bonus, most cats tend to purr at between 1.5 and 5 Gigahertz, which is a very low frequency. It’s the same frequency used in the treatment of arthritis[3]. So if you happen to have arthritis and you’ve noticed that you feel better with your kitty on your lap, that’s not in your head – you really do feel better.

And finally, a ground-breaking 2009 study from the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology found that those who own cats have a lower risk of death due to stroke or heart attack[4].

What Else Do Pets Do for Us?

Not only do pets promote healthier lifestyles, which then lead to better outcomes for those who suffer from heart attack or stroke – or help prevent those problems altogether – those furry friends bring even more to the table.

·         Lower blood sugar. This is thanks to the better diet and exercise you experience when you have a pet around.

·         Better memory. Memory recall and retention, as well as better mental cognition, are common among those with pets.

·         Reduction of loneliness. It’s hard to feel lonely when a dog or cat is demanding your attention or showing you how much they love being in your presence.

·         Reduction of isolation. Daily walks for a dog or even a brief discussion with a delivery person about that pretty cat in your window can lead to better socialization, which in turn leads to less loneliness.

·         Focus on the present. It can be tough to stop ruminating on the past, or focusing on what the future might hold. Pets demand that you focus on them, in the here-and-now, which can improve your mental well-being.

·         More purpose. Having a pet in your life that needs you can help you feel more alive. That translates into lower levels of anxiety and depression.

·         Potential security. Dogs are well-known for their ability to alert and protect their owners from danger, but cats are no slouch in this area. Pets often sound the alarm when they notice smoke or attempted access to your home.

·         Better routines. Having a solid daily routine can help alleviate stress. Pets need routines – especially being fed at certain times – and that can make you build a routine around them.

How to Choose the Right Pet

Not all pets are for everyone. The last thing you want to do is get an active, zippy Labrador puppy for a person who is housebound – that won’t work out well for anyone. Fitting the animal to the person, and vice versa, is absolutely necessary for the harmonious relationship that should ensue. But in addition, there are very practical considerations to keep in mind when choosing a pet.

·         Consider the physical abilities. As mentioned above, a very active pet isn’t great for someone who is housebound. Those who can’t get out much should consider a cat rather than a dog.

·         What’s the living situation? Unfortunately, some apartment complexes or assisted living facilities won’t allow pets. It might also be difficult to have a pet if you live with someone who is allergic to them.

·         Consider the costs. Between food, toys, visits to the veterinarian, vaccinations, and potential other costs for leashes, pet carriers, and even pet rent, the cost of a dog can run $2,000 per year, while a cat can be less at around $500[5].

·         What’s the contingency plan? A strong support network is essential to help care for a pet if the owner is hospitalized or must make other housing arrangements. Make sure someone can take the pet if that sort of situation arises.

Once those considerations are thought through, what about the pet itself?

Remember that adopting a pet can change an entire daily routine, so if you are very set in your ways, it’s probably best to ease into pet ownership. Perhaps sharing the pet with a friend, family member, or neighbor and keeping it in your home for increasing periods of time each day can help you adjust.

Consider a specially-trained dog or cat if you are dealing with any sort of medical issue that might benefit from one. For instance, epilepsy therapy dogs can spot the signs of a seizure long before you ever feel it, allowing you to get to a safe space before it hits.

Puppies and kittens are much more active than adult dogs or cats. Senior dogs or cats are often in need of a good home and unfortunately, are among the last to be picked at a shelter. But these older animals have often slowed down a bit and can be easier for their elderly owners to handle. Before choosing any animal, older or not, make sure to get it checked out very thoroughly by a veterinarian.

The Argument for a Shelter Pet

If you are looking for a specially-trained pet, it will likely have to come from an organization that trains and sells or donates the animals. But if you are looking for a pet to simply be a wonderful companion, go with a shelter pet.

Shelter pets are cheaper than purchasing a pet from a breeder, and it’s a more responsible move, too. Shelter animals, especially older ones, are often surrendered by owners who can no longer care for them, for whatever reason. Though some shelters have a no-kill pledge, many do not, which means millions of shelter animals face euthanasia each year. Adopting an animal from a shelter could be quite literally saving a life.

Besides that, the staff at animal shelters are well-versed in animal behavior. They can often tell you about an animal’s temperament and whether that particular pet would be right for you or a loved one[6]. They can walk you through the adoption process. As an added bonus, many shelters offer reduced adoption fees for those who are over the age of 55.

Why Pets Make Medical Alerts Even More Important

Medical alert devices become even more important when you have a pet in the house. The first reason is an obvious one: pets are often running around your feet, and that can lead to an increased likelihood of falls. However, many would argue that the long-term benefits of having a pet outweigh the risks of that fall. Regardless of your position, it’s important to have that medical alert watch or pendant on you at all times, so if you do fall, you can call for help immediately.

It’s also important for your own peace of mind – not just for yourself, but for your pet as well. We come to love our pets as part of our family and want to know that they are well-cared for. If you suffer a medical emergency, you want help to come immediately not just for you, but for the benefit of your pet as well. That’s another reason it’s so important to have your medical alert pendant with you at all times and to use it if you ever feel as though you need to. Don’t hesitate! Alert1 never charges for repeated or accidental button pushes, so you never have to worry about charges for “false alarms.” Our Command Center will answer the call, 24/7, and get you whatever assistance you need. For added reassurance, tell them you have a pet, and both you and your furry loved one will be assisted in whatever way is needed.