Top Reasons for Seniors to Own a Pet
Australia is a land of pet lovers. In fact, there are more pets (29 million) than people (25 million), and 61% of Australian households have at least one pet.
The benefits of owning a pet are myriad. Whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, fish or something else, pets can provide affection and companionship. Depending on the pet, they can also promote exercise and outdoor activities.
And just because you’re getting older, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits that a pet offers. In fact, for elderly people a pet can mitigate some of the other effects that come with ageing.
What are the benefits of owning a pet for older Australians?
While there’s certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence around the benefits of pet ownership, research also backs things up.
Affection and companionship
One of the biggest benefits of owning a pet is the company they provide. Most people who own a pet consider it part of the family – a trusted and loving companion throughout the day.
A 2019 Australian survey reported that 71% of respondents said that owning a pet had a very positive impact on their lives. People cited the biggest benefit of owning a pet was affection and companionship, followed by an overall feeling that their life was improved with a pet.
Pets are social creatures. Even less cuddly pets like reptiles still thrive with regular handling and time spent with them.
Dogs are by far the most social creatures, with dog owners reportedly spending an average of 4.2 hours with their furry friend each day, while cat owners average 3.4 hours. Retirees will often spend even more time than this, with 32% of dog owners who are retired spending 6 or more hours with their dog.
So it’s no surprise that pet owners can develop a strong attachment to their pet, speaking to them as if they can understand. For example, 82% of older pet owners aged 70yrs+ and 72% of those aged 55-69yrs talk to their pets.
With a furry creature to communicate with, older people living by themselves can feel less lonely. Having someone to talk with (even a pet) can also help to reduce stress and improve mental health. And some evidence suggests talking to a pet can help people suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia to engage more.
Health and exercise
Plenty of research has shown a positive connection between health and pet ownership.
Dog owners in particular benefit from the regular exercise that comes with caring for a pooch. Dogs need frequent exercise – some breeds more than others – and this often means accompanying them on walks and other outdoor activities.
But even pets that don’t require much in the way of exercise still offer some health benefits. Cats, birds and other small pets need to be fed and cared for, which helps to maintain mobility.
More specific research, by the Baker Medical Research Institution in Melbourne, into heart health and pet ownership reveals a reduced risk of heart disease. They discovered lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels in pet owners compared to those who do not own pets, even after controlling for other factors such as diet, weight and smoking status.
What to consider before getting a pet?
Given all the benefits of owning a pet, it’s likely that you’ve considered bringing one into your life. Before you start deciding on names, make sure you have thought about these things:
Time – some animals need more attention and care than others. Are you willing to spend upwards of 4 hours a day looking after a dog or cat, or do you prefer something that’s less demanding, like a fish or reptile?
Cost – every pet will come with some ongoing costs, including food, bedding, vet bills and medication. Some pets will cost more than others – a large dog will eat more food than a rabbit, for example. Consider your existing budget and what you can afford to spend each month. Talk to other pet owners if you’re not sure exactly how much you’d need to budget.
Another cost to consider is the initial outlay to get a pet. While some pets are very inexpensive (or even free) some types of animals and breeds can cost $1,000 or more to buy. Also factor in the cost of beds, cages, leads, toys and everything else you’ll need to make your pet comfortable.
- Going away – make sure you’ve thought about what will happen if you’re away from home, such as going on holiday. You might be able to bring a dog with you, but most animals will need to be cared for while you’re gone. Consider whether there’s a trusted family member or friend who’d be willing to look after your pet, or whether you’ll need to pay for a pet sitter or accommodation for your furry friend.