Many studies have proven that having a soft cat or a warm dog is good for the human soul.
“Scientists have noticed that owning and handling animals significantly benefits health. Research has found that pets may help older adults live longer, healthier and more enjoyable lives,” said Renette Wardlow, a human development specialist with University of Missouri Extension
There are a number of explanations for exactly how pets offer health benefits. First of all, pets need walking, feeding, grooming, and encourage lots of playing and petting. All of these activities require action from owners, which in turn, benefits the cardiovascular system and helps keep joints limber and flexible.
“Consistently performing this minor exercise can keep pet owners able to carry out the normal activities of daily living,” said Wardlow.
Pets also aid people by providing some physical contact. Studies have shown that when people pet animals, their blood pressure, heart rate and temperature decrease. Pets are also a great source of companionship — they act as a support system for older people who do not have any family or close friends nearby.
“Some studies show that people with pets are able to remain more emotionally stable during a crisis than do people without pets,” said Wardlow.
Pets also work as a buffer against social isolation. For people who have trouble leaving home to see other people, pets fill the void by giving people the interaction they need.
“This can help combat depression, one of the most common medical problems facing seniors today,” said Wardlow. “The responsibility of caring for an animal may also give the elderly a sense of purpose, a reason to get up in the morning.”
A few additional health benefits of having a pet include a reduction in stress and anxiety, improvement of mood, promoting heart health, enhanced immune system, a more balanced life, and motivation to eat and sleep better.
“Seniors with pets will be the first to tell us that pets bring happiness. Receiving a warm, fuzzy welcome first thing in the morning from a furry friend gives the best feeling in the world,” said Wardlow.
Extension Division, University of Missouri