If you’ve never considered yourself a “pet person,” now might be a good time to reconsider.
Research continues to tell us what pet lovers already know — living with a pet makes a world of difference — for the pet and for the owner. And while owning a pet shouldn’t entirely be about what the pet will do for us, it should be noted that pets have a lot to offer us, and we have a lot to offer them.
One of the biggest changes in retirement is a general abandonment of routine. On the one hand, we spend our lives looking forward to the day when we can leave routine behind. But then when the day arrives, it can be a tough transition. We have two choices: We can swap out our old routine for a new (and better!) one, or we can feel aimless and unproductive and end up damaging our self-worth and our overall health.
Pets require attention and routine. Depending on the pet, the routine may be more or less relaxed, but the pet still requires food, trips outside and engagement during the day. And most pets appreciate having these things in a general routine. In this way, pets can be very helpful for seniors who are navigating retirement or a general change of pace. The needs of our pets end up creating the structure we crave.
One area where retired homeowners can struggle is getting out and socializing — especially during times of the year when socialization takes extra effort. Pets (and especially dogs) can be helpful in this area. Dogs are — by nature — social creatures who attract good people to come and interact with them wherever they go.
Regardless of the season, dogs need to be let out and get daily exercise. Ideally, they will be taken on walks or given time to run at the park, and as any dog owner knows, you can’t walk a dog without meeting somebody. It’s true that pet owners are often more socially engaged than their non-pet-owning counterparts. Pets lead to increased socialization within the neighborhood and with other people who share a love or interest in pets.
Socialization is good for our health and is a necessary part of retirement. Having a pet can help create opportunities for socialization. If you don’t think of yourself as incredibly sociable, have no fear, simply having a pet will do the hard work for you. You may just find your next good friend at the park or on the walking trail. Our Tampa pet-friendly senior living community includes a dog park as well as other places to socialize.
According to doctors, living with a pet can create powerful reactions in the brain. Research shows that pets lower cortisol (the stress-inducing hormone) and raise serotonin (the feel-good hormone). The results of this brain reaction can actually lower blood pressure and reduce stress, which can strengthen immunity, lower cholesterol and fight against depression.
Swedish research demonstrated that when women interact with their dogs, their brains produce similar bonding hormones to women who are breastfeeding their newborn babies. It has the power to improve mental health during long, dark days or difficult recovery periods. That’s why therapy dogs are an important resource for individuals fighting cancer, depression and stress at work or school.
Consider how many people take their dog for a walk so the dog will get exercise, and then they get their own exercise in the process. One more walk around the block or one more tennis ball thrown in the park has good effects on the owner’s health as well as the pet’s health. Only it can feel more fun because it doesn’t feel like exercise. Pets force us to get off the couch, to play on the floor, to go for a walk, to answer the door; to do the things we are most tempted not to do when we don’t feel like it.
We know pain is exacerbated by anxiety. By lowering anxiety, then, we can help reduce pain. So, seniors with arthritis, migraines or other pain-inducing conditions may be helped by the presence of a pet in retirement. One study done at Loyola University went so far as to prove that pet therapy after surgery can reduce a need for pain meds because of the hormones released in the brain when we interact with our animals. Next time you are feeling achy, interact with a lovable pet and see what happens!
Animals have heightened senses and are known for calling attention to situations when something is amiss. Many stories can be told of pets who alerted their owners to prowlers outside or to something burning in the kitchen without their owners’ knowledge. Would-be lawbreakers have intentionally avoided homes and people with dogs. And even the presence of a “Beware of Dogs” sign has been known to keep troublemakers or solicitors away.
Additionally, knowing a dog is “on guard” can create a sense of ease and result in a better night’s sleep for someone living alone. And we all know the effects of a good night’s sleep on our health. Pets can create a sense of security unmatched by an alarm service or front gate.
Pets provide many social and emotional benefits for their owners. There’s a reason pets are useful in various types of therapies throughout the world. Not only can pets lower our pain, but they can help improve moods, which is critical for good health and, in some cases, recover from something traumatic.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center, for instance, has long used dogs to help soldiers handle post-traumatic stress disorder. The therapists and researchers have found that pets help these soldiers re-adjust to life at home and as productive members of society. Specifically, these pets have even helped lower suicide rates because the soldiers have someone to be responsible for, and they end up finding companionship with someone who will be present in their lives regardless of what they’ve experienced or what they feel.
Chemotherapy patients who are allowed to take pets with them often credit their resolve to get better to their furry companions.
One adjustment many seniors are forced to make during retirement is spending long stretches of time alone. After years of finding our identity in meeting the needs of other people — at work or at home — suddenly the house can feel big and quiet. Pets can help fill this void.
People who experience traumatic or life-changing loss often attribute a will to heal from the companionship of a pet. While the pet certainly can’t replace the person who was lost, the pet can help provide comfort and stability through the uncertainty. When you have a pet, you always have someone to talk to, and the gift of that companionship should not be easily overlooked.
Without question, every retiree matters and is a cherished member of society; unfortunately, sometimes it’s easy for individuals to lose sight of their self-worth. Especially when life requires a sudden or dramatic change or people who were once close are no longer nearby. It’s easy to wallow in what was instead of what is yet to be. Pets have a unique ability to pull us out of moments of self-doubt and renew our sense of self-worth. By placing our focus and care on another being, like working to meet the needs of our pet, we end up meeting our own needs.
The greatest clarity we feel about our own self-worth comes when we are meeting the needs of someone else, and pets give us this opportunity every day.
American Heart Association studies consistently show pet owners to have lower blood pressure readings. In addition to these lower blood pressure readings helping mental health, they also help lower heart rates and aid in faster recovery times. Harvard Medical research shows that pet ownership, specifically owning a dog, is associated with a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
Pet ownership can be a responsible and exciting part of our strategy to pursue better health and brighter days.
The good news is regardless of whether you have allergies, a disability or a strict budget, the right pet exists for you if you want one. Contact your local shelter to discuss the right companion for you. And if you live in a place where you can’t have a pet, consider volunteering some time with animals at the shelter. You may be surprised how beneficial living with pets can be!
Here at Tessera of Brandon, we understand the importance of pet ownership on residents’ overall well-being. We would love to show you what we mean. Newly constructed and opened last year, we are a fresh, modern pet-friendly senior living community in Brandon near Tampa that exists to meet your needs in retirement. We are especially proud of our conveniences, comforts and unparalleled services. Our apartments are designed for maximum independence, and our community spaces have been carefully engineered to keep you connected and engaged with people and pastimes you love. We offer many options for entertainment, relaxation and well-being. Why don’t you come see for yourself? We’d love to show you around. Contact us to schedule a tour of our pet-friendly retirement community or discuss our living options today.