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Mental wellness

September 29, 2011

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 four-legged companion into your home.

Advantages:

1. Health benefits: The health benefits of pets have been widely studied and acknowledged. According to an April 2010 AARP poll on pet ownership and exercise, three in 10 respondents reported getting more exercise than they did before they got a dog, with six in 10 reporting that they get about the same amount.

But the health-related advantages don’t stop there. A 2002 study from the State University of New York at Buffalo found that people with pets had significantly lower heart rate and blood pressure levels in stressful situation than those without a pet. 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. The ASPCA notes that a medium-sized dog will cost the average pet owner $1,580 in the first year, while a cat will cost you $1,035. Statistics Canada says that in 2008, the average household spent $890 on pet expenses. Before adopting a pet, it’s therefore important to consider whether you can afford to cover these costs along with such potential unexpected pet 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 or should you become ill.

5. Age of pet: While puppies and kittens may be 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 match your lifestyle.

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