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Mental wellness

February 16, 2018

Do pet owners live longer?

Many studies show retirees who own pets tend to live longer. But there are important factors to consider before bringing a pet into your home.

According to numerous studies, pet owners tend to have longer lives. While there are many theories as to why this may be the case, Nancy Cressman, education manager with the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society, says, “There’s no question that seniors benefit from having a pet.”

Pets bring many advantages – everything from companionship to help in keeping you active. However, there are also some serious factors to take into account before you consider bringing a 4-legged companion into your home.

Advantages:

1. Health benefits: The health benefits of pets have been widely studied and acknowledged. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says having a pet can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness, and increase your opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization.

According to the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, an online research hub maintained by Purdue University, positive human-animal interaction has been shown to influence levels of blood pressure, heart rate and hormones related to well-being, such as cortisol and oxytocin.

And all of this can contribute to a longer life: A 2017 Swedish study found that owning a dog may reduce your risk of a heart attack and even death, by providing social support and motivation for physical activity.

Cressman explains that health benefits seniors receive from their pets also include stress reduction and help dealing with grief and loss.

2. Social companionship: Cats and dogs are well known for offering affection and unconditional love, which can help if you’re feeling lonely or isolated. Also, dogs in particular require owners to get out and about in the community, which can open up social interaction with neighbours. However, Cressman says any pet – whether dog, cat, hamster or bird – would provide more benefit than no pet at all.

3. Personal security: Having a pet (especially a dog) around the house may also increase your feeling of personal security, as it can alert you to dangers or threats in the neighbourhood.

Considerations:

1. Cost: Apart from the initial cost of adoption, pets can come with a hefty price tag when you take into account food, accessories, care and regular veterinary bills. According to the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association, a puppy will cost the average pet owner close to $3,000 in the first year, while a cat will cost nearly $2,000. You can expect the expense to decrease somewhat in 2nd and subsequent years, once you’re past the cost of spaying/neutering and initial outlays for equipment such as crates and beds, but you’ll still have ongoing bills for food and treats, cat litter, routine health care, grooming, pet-sitting or boarding and replacing chewed-up or worn-out equipment. Before adopting a pet, it’s therefore important to consider whether you can afford to cover these normal costs, along with such potential unexpected expenses as emergency veterinary bills.

2. Time commitment: Think of the time required to clean up after a dog or cat (vacuuming or cleaning out a litter box, for example), or the hours needed to take care of the pet itself, including exercising, brushing, bathing, shopping for pet food, vet visits and the training of the pet. Consider what kind of relationship you want to have with the pet, says Cressman. Do you want a pet that requires a lot of attention or one that offers minimal interaction and is quite independent?

3. Lifestyle: It’s important to find a pet that matches your lifestyle and will react well to others, such as grandchildren who will be around frequently, says Cressman. Research the different breeds of pets and their temperaments and care requirements to make sure they match up with your activity level and the space you have available in your home. For example, some dog breeds require far more walking than others.

4. Support system: Cressman stresses that before choosing a pet, you must consider your backup system, in terms of who will provide care for your pet when you’re travelling (especially if you typically spend extended periods away from home) or should you become ill.

5. Age of pet: While puppies and kittens are cute, you may want to consider adopting a pet that is already past infancy. Older pets are generally calmer and you know you’re getting what you see in terms of size and behaviour, says Cressman, so it’s easier to determine if they’ll fit into your lifestyle.

6. Your age: Take a realistic look at your age and health, compared to the average lifespan of the pet you’re thinking about, and consider what would happen if your dog or cat were to outlive you.

While there are definitely many benefits to sharing your life with a pet, both you and your dog or cat will be happier if you think your decision through carefully and plan well.

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