Pets bring peace: Caring for a four-legged friend brings physical, emotional and psychological benefits
This story is adapted from the 2018 Spring-Summer edition of Peak NV, a specialty magazine produced by the Sierra Nevada Media Group that published in April in the Nevada Appeal, Record-Courier and Lahontan Valley News print editions. Visit bit.ly/2JSc2HN" target="_blank">Bold">bit.ly/2JSc2HN to view an e-edition of the magazine.
While there are many healing benefits of owning pets, below are the three main reasons why older adults should consider adopting a pet:
1. Reduce Stress: Studies show that playing with or petting your pet results in increased oxytocin levels and decreased cortisol production, which results in you feeling less stressed out. An added benefit, it also calms the animal.
2. Follow a Schedule: Pets, similar to children, thrive when they follow a steady daily routine. Adding a pet to your life will also bring stability to your days as you create a structure that best suites you both and feel motivated to follow it.
3. Better Exercise & Companionship: Owning a dog will get you up and outside more so you both can take in the fresh air. Even having a cat or a less active dog or house pet has shown to enhance people’s feeling of camaraderie, combatting loneliness.
Sources: Nevada, Pet Network humane societies
The remarkable bond between people and their pets reaches deeper than simply having someone cute to spend the day with; caring for a pet brings tremendous health and wellness benefits that you may not have expected.
“There are so many wonderful emotional benefits that people experience when they bring a new pet into their life,” said Heidi Todd, shelter manager of Pet Network Humane Society (www.petnetwork.org) in Incline Village.
She and Kimberly Wade, communications director of the Nevada Humane Society (www.nevadahumanesociety.org), spoke with Peak NV at length about the physical, emotional and psychological benefits that caring for animals provides.
“There are studies that have been around for years that show that overall, pets provide a happier, healthier lifestyle,” Wade said. “They reduce stress, keep people happy, give people a reason to live and love … they are a family member.”
Having less stress in one’s life often reduces the likelihood of developing stress-related illness over time, Todd said, adding that owning a pet adds structure to daily routines, which is especially important for older adults — as we develop schedules around our animals, it makes us more focused, organized and determined.
“There are, of course, obvious physical benefits as well — getting outside more, exercising more and breathing in that fresh air while we soak up some vitamin D,” Todd said. “It has also been proven that if you have a pet at home that it actually lengthens your lifespan because you have something to live for, something that depends on you for what it needs out of life.
“We are seeing more and more that seniors are adopting senior cats or dogs, and it is improving the health and longevity of life for both the people and the animals.”
At the Nevada Humane Society, which has locations in Reno and Carson City, the staff’s outlook is the same — pets and people help one another.
“The biggest need is companionship — there are elderly people without family or friends, and that pet becomes their reason for waking up every day, and vice versa, there are plenty of older animals who don’t want to go hiking they just want to lie on the couch with you,” Wade said.
Todd added that she believes pets are especially helpful for those who’ve dealt with loss or are living alone.
“The beautiful thing about both cats, dogs — or any animal — is that they pass no judgment on us as their family; they are always there for us even when they don’t know it,” she said. “They oftentimes are the furry shoulders that we cry on, the strong backs that we put our weight on and the kind hearts we look to, to find positivity in a situation that feels dismal. Even when one feels like they are going through the worst that life has to throw at them, they can know that the love, kindness and compassion of their animals will always be there to support them and listen to them.”
Adoption is easy through rescue shelters across the country, whose specialists work with adopters to ensure both they and the pet are well prepared for a successful future.
Todd and Wade encourage people to visit shelters and humane societies to bond with prospective adopted animals in order to get a sense of their personalities and how they’ll settle in at your home.
“Adopting a new family member over purchasing a new family member is the best thing you can do for both yourself and the animals,” Todd said.
She added that currently the United States has over 1 million animals that need to be rescued from overcrowded facilities or euthanasia lists.
“Many places, including Pet Network, adopt out healthy, loving animals that have already been vaccinated, spayed or neutered, de-wormed, microchipped and often offer free limited pet insurance,” she said. “Please always remember the best thing to do for all animals and your community is to spay or neuter and microchip your firry family members.
“If you aren’t quite ready to adopt, you can always volunteer your time and mostly, love the animals waiting to find their forever families.”