Pets improve quality of life for seniors

Posted Feb. 14, 2011, at 6:23 p.m.

Sometimes a new lease on life comes in the most unlikely of packages. An older woman recently revealed that her new lease was in the form of a fluffy and feisty kitten that had become the light of her and her husband’s life. They couldn’t believe how wonderful it was to have the little girl around, and how she filled their home with excitement and joy.

Science has proved what this woman already figured out: Seniors and pets are a great combination. Much research has been conducted and the results show that having pets definitely increases the quality of life and emotional health of seniors. In fact, just petting an animal can reduce loneliness while the unconditional love and commitment companion animals give to their owners can be like therapy.

Pets can bring new meaning and purpose to the life of an older person, foster a sense of well-being and encourage an active lifestyle.

“Studies have confirmed what we have believed all along, that pets are not only a joy, but can positively affect our health,” said Stephanie Monk, veterinarian at Lucerne Veterinary Clinic. “Lowered heart rate, blood pressure, depression and anxiety, not to mention the fact that having a companion around to talk to makes us feel good.”

There are some things to think about before bringing a pet into your home: Older cats need homes and make great pets. While they may be past the “cute kitten” stage, they are also past the curtain climbing stage.

If considering a dog, think about breed and age. Talk to shelter staff about your needs and lifestyle. If you are unsteady on your feet, you might not want a large dog that has lots of energy or a puppy that could trip you. The weather should play a part in the decision too. Blizzard or not, Fido still needs to go out.

Be sure you have someone willing to take the pet should you become incapacitated and are no longer able to care for it. Talk to family members and make your wishes known.

Never give a pet as a gift unless you are absolutely sure the senior really wants one. While a surprise party may be fun, a surprise pet is not. Let’s face it — a house without a pet is just a house. Adopt an animal in need and make your house a home.

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