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Make the Golden Years Golden with a Companion Animal

A dog owner shares the benefits of companion animal ownership


Caucasian woman holding dog
Blend Images - Granger Wootz/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
By John Bolt for About.com Senior Living

I've heard that people who keep companion animals tend to live longer than those who do not. This is more than simple superstition or an old myth; research has shown that companion animals can help to make significant changes not only in a person's lifespan, but in recovery. For example, people who have suffered heart attacks tend to recover more quickly and more fully when they have the company of a companion animal.

It’s been shown that having a companion animal can help to bring out our nurturing instincts. Pets will love a good human unconditionally, and this kind of acceptance can be very helpful in boosting one’s self-esteem and increasing the quality of life. One study shows that petting a dog or cat can actually release endorphins, or "feel good" hormones into the body. This can help you feel calmer, and it can lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Studies also indicate that people with companion animals suffer less stress than others, and they tend to visit doctors less often.

How Companion Animals Can Help You Stay Healthier
Not only can a pet be a great asset simply for companionship, but when you take your dog for a walk you get exercise. It's no wonder researchers say that seniors with companion animals tend to be healthier than those who do not. It makes sense, really. Past a certain age, it can be difficult to maintain the enthusiasm it takes to get outdoors, to get some fresh air, and to get a little exercise. With a charming companion animal to take walks with, it’s hard to not want to get out there.

Some dogs have been able to identify illness in their owners, being able to warn of cancer, low blood sugar levels in diabetics, and oncoming epileptic seizures. It may be wise to take some of these claims with a grain of salt, as even the smartest dog isn’t a suitable substitute for regular checkups. However, that’s not to say that the claims are entirely unprecedented. It’s not unheard of for a dog to sense early warning signs of illness well before the symptoms become obvious to humans.

Depression can have an adverse effect on one’s immune system. Many seniors live alone, and companion animals have been shown to help eliminate feelings of loneliness or depression. In addition, dogs can also provide a sense of security and reduce feelings of vulnerability, which is very important. Even an ex-Navy Seal can feel unsafe in his own home when living alone. Keeping a dog, who can warn of intruders, can provide a source of comfort for many senior citizens.

Companion Animals: Therapeutic Friendships
It can be something of a sensitive issue, but it’s certainly worth discussing: Many seniors have to cope with the loss of loved ones, and with the development of serious illness. The golden years can be lonely and difficult, but a companion animal can help:

  • Pets can provide much-needed companionship while their owners cope with the crisis and stresses in life. It’s fair to suggest that a companion animal could save a person’s life simply by being there when they need a friend.
  • In many nursing homes and hospitals, it's not uncommon for folks from local animal shelters to bring puppies, dogs, or other companion animals to visit, bringing a smile to the faces of disabled seniors.
  • People with Alzheimer’s may feel lonesome, even in the company of long-time friends. The immediate and unconditional love of a dog can provide comfort and companionship.

Living alone, especially for those of us in our later years, isn’t always easy. With a loving companion animal by your side, you are not alone.

Goldendoodletime.com publisher John Bolt lives near Toronto, Ontario, with his wife Carolee and a miniature goldendoodle named Daly. When not writing about dogs he loves getting outdoors, playing sports, and playing with dogs.

Are you considering getting a companion animal for yourself or someone you know? Before heading to your local animal shelter, consider the companion animal benefits, costs and responsibilities-- and make an informed decision.

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