Animal companions are a vital component of a happy, joyous life at any age. But as we grow in years, we may forget how immensely having the unconditional love of an animal friend can impact our lives. We may begin to focus on the physical and financial responsibility of caring for another life; not to mention the devastation the loss of this life will bring. But believe it or not, having a pet can actually add years to your life.
1. Stress Relief
Anyone with a pet will tell you how rewarding life is with their animal partner. Even independent, energetic and troublesome animals have a special bond with their pet parents. But emerging science now indicates that having a pet can potentially increase your life span.
People with pets have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than those without, decreasing the risk of cardiac disease. Heart attack survivors with dogs can live longer than those without. People over 65 even make 1/3 fewer visits to the doctor when they have pets. These benefits make a significant difference on their own, but just think about how much better those extra years will be when you have a friend to share them with. It’s not just quantity of life; animals add to the quality of life as well.
2. An Important Job
No one needs to be put out to pasture when they hit retirement. In fact, this is the time that your hobbies and leisurely pursuits can become your life. To stay happy and healthy, people need things to do every day that make them feel special and important. We also need to socialize. And sometimes an animal is just the ticket. A pet will keep you on a schedule, give you doable responsibilities, and a sense of satisfaction when both your needs are fulfilled. Walking a dog or joining an animal enthusiast group will help you meet people and socialize.
3. Nurturing and Learning
Pet companionship means there is growth for both of you. You and your friends will both learn new skills, and learning helps your brain stay sharp. Nurturing a living creature also supports a positive mood. Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression, and playing with a dog or cat can create a state of calm and relaxation by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels. Increased exercise from walking a dog or active play also releases endorphins and other chemicals that improve mood.
4. Service Animals and Companions
Some need service animals to help with daily living, or make a significant medical contribution to quality of life. Service dogs, pigs and even horses help blind, paraplegic and other people in need live as normal a life as possible. And animals have long been used in hospitals and therapy for children and adults with physical and mental disabilities to help boost morale and lessen symptoms.
5. Animal Alerts
Very few animals are injured in earth, wind and water related natural disasters. While swift and unpredictable wild fires are another entity entirely, most animals, even our domestic friends, have acute senses that alert them to looming danger. Many dogs and cats runaway when an earthquake is about to hit. Working elephants broke from their chains and retreated to high ground, along with birds and other animal before the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit land in South Asia. When an animal is unseasonably aggressive or nervous it could mean you need to prepare yourself for the worst. And that preparation could save your life.
Animals can also be attuned to medical emergencies and sound the alarm when an internal crisis is occurring that you cannot sense. Dogs have been known to sense the biological changes that occur in us when cardiac arrest, stroke and internal bleeding occur. Some dogs have even been trained to sniff out cancer cells and alert at a recurrence.
Even if you are allergic to most two and four legged friends, there is almost always a way to get a little one in your life; even if you have to think outside the box. So if cats and dogs, or pigs and horses are not quite your speed, consider the calming sounds of an aquarium or the lovely song of a bird. Most rodents make great, contained pets, and even offbeat animals like a de-fanged tarantula or tiny turtle might do the trick.