Animal Companions


Children are not the only ones who benefit from having pets to love, care for, and enjoy. Dogs, cats and other animals have a way of making adults of all ages feel young at heart and remain healthier.

When searching for evidence, you’ll likely come across a study of senior owners of pets conducted by the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia (1992). Spanning three years, the research involved 5,741 individuals (3,394 men and 2,347 women) of different socioeconomic backgrounds with varied personal habits, such as smoking and nonsmoking. All such behaviors were exhibited in the diverse group of pet owners (784 in total), yet they had significantly lower blood pressure, and triglyceride and cholesterol levels for numerous reasons.

  • By spending time with an animal who lives in the moment, pet owners worry less and suffer less from stress. Being with a dog has been shown to reduce cortisol, a stress hormone.
  • Many pet owners confide their worries to their animals, and expressing their concerns to anattentive listener makes them feel better.
  • Animals, particularly barking dogs, not only ward off intruders, but help their owners feel safer at home alone.
  • Animals have a calming effect on Alzheimer’s patients, who often get agitated.
  • From more meaningful and frequent social interaction with fellow humans (getting outmore and sharing common interests with other animal lovers), pet owners are less lonely.
  • Whether partaking in a full workout by throwing balls and walking, or simply petting/brushing fur and keeping arthritic hands moving, people who have pets are more physically active.
  • Better appetites result from feeling happier (interactions with animals increase serotonin levels) and less lonely, as well as from exercising and adhering to mealtime schedules for their animal companions.
  • Their responsibility for another living being minimizes pet owners’ focusing on themselves.
  • Pet owners have a greater sense of purpose when they know an animal companion depends on them.
  • Whether from talking to their animals or keeping track of care requirements, pet owners are more mentally engaged.
  • Pet owners are constantly rewarded by an animal’s unconditional love.

Interestingly, the positive effects of pet ownership seem to negate certain lifestyle choices. For instance, pet owners in the Baker study were more active overall, but as a group, they also consumed more alcohol and fast food. 

Without question, a beloved pet plays an invaluable role in an older adult’s physical and mental wellbeing. Considering how greatly an animal enhances quality of life, seniors and their loved ones should not discount the value of having a best friend at home. The advantages continue if the animal moves with the owner into an assisted living. If that’s not possible, it’s also reassuring for nearby family or friends to take the best friend so he or she remains accessible.