Dog Ownership & Senior Mental Health

Many already know that owning or having the companionship of a dog can be of considerable help in improving the health of seniors. Now a definitive study by Missouri University agrees with those of us who already knew and understood the value of seniors, among others, of having a dog.

The study found that that canine companionship can improve the health and overall outlook of seniors in that it creates an important bond between the senior and his/her companion. For those who are ambulatory, walking the dog, getting out into parks and socializing with others and other physical activity associated with the care and feeding of a dog translates to fewer trips to see a doctor. After a short period of building an understanding with a pet, many seniors feel that the very term “owning” dog is something of a misinterpretation. A real love with his/her companion can be likened in some ways, if not to marriage, at least a partnership, each driving certain pleasures and benefits from the devoted companionship of the other.

The team researched data from the health and retirement study (2012), which was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging as well as the SSA. This also included information on the interactions between humans and animals, their physical activity, and doctor visits needed as well as health in general in its national sample of participants.

The team affirmed that dog/human alliances benefit from the bond created between the human and the dog. A stronger bond also indicates that dog walking and other pet-related exercises resulted in better health for the seniors as well as, frequently, new friendships and social activities due to the interaction with other dog walkers.

The Center for Disease Control & Prevention recommends about two hours of moderate physical activity per adult of all ages; their study indicates that dog walking is not only an effective way to keep up to this minimum level but provides a satisfying way for seniors to get the most enjoyment from their physical activity.

Rebecca Johnson (MU College of Vet. Medicine) said that knowing and understanding these results might provide a basis for medical professionals to recommend the acquisition of a pet to older adults. All this may be translated into fewer doctor visits and lower health care expenses for our aging population.

Choosing the best dog breed for a senior citizen can be important:

Johnson added in addition that encouraging a pet-friendly policy in retirement communities could enable residents t enjoy not only the many health benefits of canine companionship but an opportunity to have more social interactions with peers. This sort of pet-friendly environment might include such amenities as dog walking trails, etc.

Many other recent studies from affirm this human/pet research and the benefits of sharing one’s later years with a loyal pet, but this can also apply to people of all ages, not merely seniors.

A study done in 2015 by a Swedish team studied the data collected by more than a million Swedish children. Their study indicated that those who grew up with the companionship of a dog had a fifteen percent lower risk of contracting asthma.

Last year, in a study done by a U.S. team and published in the journal Preventive Chronic Disease, found that children with a pet dog had lower anxiety scores. This, the team believes, is directly attributable to the bond created between children and their furry friends.

Another study done in 2013 by Las Vegas Dog Hotel and Daycare indicated another way, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, that having a canine companion may be good for our health. At first, this latter may sound a bit far-fetched, but researchers mostly agree that the germs a dog will bring into your home may be good for your overall health. Although this may, at first, not sound like a good idea, studies show that homes with dogs had a wider variety of bacteria than homes without pets. This extra bacterial activity in the home helps to strengthen our immune systems.