Pets have the power to improve our health and well-being


By R. R. Fletcher, Contributing Writer

Pets improve our lives. A medical study concluded that having a dog or cat lowers the risk of heart disease and overall stress when performing simple tasks for older adults.  Photo/EVA
A medical study concluded that having a dog or cat lowers the risk of heart disease and overall stress when performing simple tasks for older adults.

REGION – Pets improve our lives.

Whether the family friend is a sweet tabby cat, an adventurous Sheltie, or a talkative macaw, studies have shown a strong bond between pet and owner contributes to a healthier and more positive home environment.

Some of the health benefits of having a pet can result from the increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities, since dogs need to be walked. Exercise helps with general health, weight control, decreased cholesterol, and even reduced blood pressure. In one study, elderly individuals with a dog or cat were better able to perform “activities of daily living”―climbing stairs, dressing, and taking daily medication.


Most Americans have at least one pet

The companionship of a pet can help cope with depression and loss. Just talking to your pet has been shown to decrease blood pressure and reduce loneliness. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes the significance of animal-human interactions and has established the One Health program. One Health focuses on the connection between people and animals in a shared environment. The CDC defines the connection as an essential bond for staying active, healthy, and happy.


Supported by Research

Claims of better health are not just because we love our pets. Numerous science-based research shows that our furry friends are good for us.

Fewer Trips to the Doctor –  A study of 1,000 Medicare patients (65 years or older) determined that dog owners had 21 percent fewer physician contacts than non-dog owners.

Sense of Security – Pets help seniors to feel that there is always a trusted friend nearby. In a recent survey, 71 percent of pet owners thought of their pet as “a friend.”

Pets Lower Blood Pressure – There have been numerous studies of pets’ effects on blood pressure. A 2002 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found pet owners over the age of 40 had lower blood pressure than non-owners. The study also concluded that having a dog or cat lowered the risk of heart disease and overall stress when performing simple tasks.

As a result of this growing recognition of the benefits of animals, nursing homes, cancer clinics, and rehabilitation centers use pets during treatment and care. And increasingly, many long-term care and senior housing facilities allow residents to keep small pets. 

But who cares for a pet’s daily needs in a medical setting, at home, or in senior housing? Helping loved ones care for their pets often becomes one of the roles taken on by family caregivers. At-home caregivers often assist a patient with the pet’s general care. And many home nursing programs now include small animals in care plans and programs.


Vets make house calls

Recently, many Massachusetts veterinarians have begun to make house calls. Essential services vital to a pet’s health are now available at home. A simple web search for “mobile vets” will list full-service practices such A House Call Vets of MetroWest in Worcester or Boston Mobile Veterinary in Weston.


Local Pet Adoption Programs

For older adults looking to adopt a pet, there are several options. In addition to the state humane society, there are numerous private rescue non-profits throughout Massachusetts.

Worcester women founded the Worcester Animal Rescue League (WARL) in 1912 to help over-worked horses, stray cats, and dogs. With an understanding of the benefits of pets, WARL spearheaded the Senior for Senior Program, which waives adoption fees for older pets (over 10 years old) adopted by anyone over 60 years old. 

The Massachusetts Humane Society (MHS) sponsors a similar program. But some seniors are unable to care full time for a pet. Consequently, the MHS developed the Sponsor Me adopt a pet program. A senior can support an animal financially, contributing to medication, food, or other special care. Pet sponsors keep up with their favorite animal through photos or by dropping by to say “hello.”

Pets have the power to enrich our lives―keeping us healthy, showing us love, and reminding us that we are needed.



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