Senior Lifestyles: Owning a pet improves your mood and your health

Published 10:00 pm Monday, July 24, 2017

Like most Americans, I grew up in a home that always had a pet. What we learned when we were kids and relearned later in life is that there is nothing like coming home from a hard day to be greeted by a very excited four-legged friend who, no matter how tired or upset you might be, welcomed you with a bark, a meow, a wet-nosed kiss and showered you with unconditional love. One of life’s joys can be achieved with the commitment to own a pet. What’s even more amazing is that doing so can help improve your mood and possibly your health.

Pets make great company as can be attested by the more than 65 percent of U.S. homes that have at least one – typically a dog or cat. There are many great things about pets; they aren’t judgmental, they’re compassionate, and even if you aren’t always the in the best of moods, they offer you unquestioning, unconditional love.

There are also some additional medical benefits of pet ownership:

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1. Lower levels of anxiety and stress – For cat owners, stroking their soft fur, hearing and feeling the purring sound is great therapy; dog owners find that having their “best friend” snuggled up against their back or feet makes them feel warm, secure and relaxed. Pets are used for therapy and service in rehabs and nursing homes, and they often help people with stress management issues.

2. Better cardiac health – One of the commitments you make with a pet, specifically a dog, is that to be a good, conscientious owner often requires you to go outdoors. It provides your dog a chance to “do his/her business” as well as visit and socialize with other dogs, and it’s a great way to meet your neighbors. The unintended consequence impacts your cardiac health, as a dog motivates you to get out the door for fresh air and exercise, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing.

3. Bonding with our pets – Almost all families treat their four-legged little friends as family members, and who hasn’t either seen someone or personally spent several minutes talking with his/her dog or cat, sometimes pouring our your frustrations, sadness or happiness. Pets don’t interrupt or disagree with you no matter what you say, and they help with good relationship building skills. An unexpected benefit is that pet owners report having stronger romantic relationships than non-pet owners.

4. Improved mental health – From helping veterans with PTSD to those with depression and other mental health challenges, studies suggest that owning a pet can help manage those conditions. Pets do some very funny, silly, and creative things. Every pet owner can share a story of when their pet brought them laughter and joy unlike anything they’ve ever experienced, and took their minds off their own personal issues. Now that’s great free therapy, and can be used as often as needed.

5. Better sleep quality – Most pet owners can tell you of getting ready for bed only to find their pet(s) sprawled across the entire mattress or hogging the covers. But before you kick “Rover” or “Tigger” out of bed, know that studies have shown that sharing a bed with your pet may actually lead to a better night’s sleep, and unlike some spouses, not every pet snores!

One last comment: If you’re thinking of getting a dog or cat, consider adopting from your local animal shelter or humane society. There are cats and dogs of all sizes, ages and breeds looking for someone to love and care for them. In exchange for you making a decision to adopt, you’ll be given a lifetime friend who will shower you with companionship, love and loyalty.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging, Medicare and Obamacare. He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or by email at