Cuddle Buddies: Pets Are Good for Your Health

by WV Marshall

That feeling of joy when playing with your dog doesn’t just keep you feeling tranquil or happy. A University of Michigan-AARP poll indicates that pets not only help their guardians calm down but also help them stick to a routine.

**Whether you own a dog, cat, hamster or bird, the majority of pet owners say their charges offer physical and mental benefits. **

Nearly nine in 10 owners told surveyors that pets help them enjoy life. Nearly eight in 10 of those surveyed said their pets help reduce stress.

Still another two-thirds indicated their pets help them stay physically active and maintain a routine.

The results of the survey, published by AARP in April 2019, also indicate that 55 percent of adults ages 50 to 80 have at least one pet.

**Man’s – and woman’s – best friend is a dog, owned by 68 percent of respondents, followed by cats, owned by 48 percent of respondents. **

Another 16 percent of respondents indicated they owned small pets such as birds, fish and hamsters.

“This study highlights the many physical, psychological and social benefits that pets can have for older adults,” says Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP.

AARP reported that the benefits appear to be more noticeable for older adults living alone or who have health-related issues by helping them cope with physical or emotional symptoms.

Forty-six percent of older adults who indicated they were in fair or poor physical health said their pets provide a distraction to their situation, as do 43 percent of pet owners who live alone.

Pet ownership also could be beneficial in other ways, the survey indicated – 65 percent of pet owners surveyed say that having a pet has helped them bond with other people.

Among the reasons given by those who don’t have a pet, 42 percent of respondents said they didn’t want to be tied down, while 23 percent cited the expense of keeping a pet.

“We have long known that pets are a common and naturally occurring source of support,” said Cathleen Connell, a professor at the U-M School of Public Health.

To help people who enjoy being around pets but don’t necessarily want to own one, Bryant suggested they should consider pet sitting, pet therapy or volunteering at an animal shelter. She also noted that pets increasingly visit assisted living facilities because of the health benefits they provide for residents.

“Helping older adults find low-cost ways to support pet ownership while not sacrificing other important relationships and priorities is an investment in overall mental and physical health,” Connell said.

Results are based on responses from 2,051 people ages 50 to 80. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 percentage point to 3 percentage points, and higher among subgroups.