10 Reasons You Need a Pet

Companionship tops a long list of why having a pet is good for seniors' health and happiness.

By SHARE

As the new year unfolds, one of the best resolutions you can make—and keep—is to call your local animal shelter and make arrangements to see if there is a stray dog or cat that you can take into your home. Having a pet helps seniors stay invested in life. Particularly if you live alone, pets counter loneliness and help you continue to focus on what's going on around you.

[Slide Show: 10 Reasons Older People Need Pets.]

There is no one pet perfect for everyone. Maybe you've always had a thing for songbirds and want to be awakened with a melody each morning (but not one that comes from an alarm clock). Or perhaps it's exotic fish or some other creature you can care for. My son has taken a powerful liking to chinchillas, and he says that if you can locate a social chinchilla, you will have found the perfect pet. The point is to find a pet that is right for you.

Although there is no perfect pet, I will promptly alienate millions of pet lovers by saying that a dog is the best choice for many people. Dogs and people develop deep emotional ties, and dogs are great companions. They will literally lay down their lives to protect you. Most ask for little in return except to be where you are and to get an occasional pat or scratch behind the ear.

Most people advise older pet owners to consider a smaller dog. Big dogs can be more than a handful. Maybe you can't get out to walk the dog as often as you should. Smaller dogs don't require as much exercise. And when you take the dog for a walk, it's nice to walk it and not be taken for a walk, which can easily happen with a larger dog. Maybe you live in a small home or apartment and don't want a big dog taking over your living space. You may prefer a dog that's not high strung and is calmer around the house. Here's a list of small dogs selected to meet these requirements, drawn from similar lists provided at PetPlace.com and Pet Connect:

  • Cocker spaniel
  • Chihuahua
  • Maltese
  • Pekingese
  • Pomeranian
  • Pug
  • Schnauzer
  • Shih tzu
  • Toy poodle
  • Yorkshire terrier
  • If you haven't already set out for the pet store or shelter, here are 10 reasons to do so:

    Companionship. Loneliness can become an unwelcome companion as we age and can lead to depression as well as physical problems. Dogs mold their schedule and personality to you. They are never unavailable or off duty. Smaller dogs, in particular, can easily travel.

    Having a routine. The routine of caring for a pet can bring structure and purpose to daily life. Maybe you don't always want to get out of bed, but your pet wants you to. Isn't that a good thing?

    Exercise. People benefit from regular physical exercise regardless of their age. But it is hard to get into a regular exercise routine, and it's so very easy to skip it. Having a dog can be a great way to make walking a part of your daily plan.

    Less stress. Older people with pets tend to exhibit less stress than those without. Maybe it's those regular walks or the sense that you've got a friend to share life's challenges. Or maybe it's that tail wagging you see very day when you wake up.

    Getting out. Having a pet, particularly one that requires regular outdoor activity, helps you stay connected to life. You go for veterinary checkups, and perhaps you visit a dog groomer. You need to be involved in social activities.

    Making new friends. There are lots of shared activities for pet owners, ranging from communal walks to charitable events and other organizations that cater to animals and protecting the environment. It can be hard to meet new people, but pets are great icebreakers.

    New interests. A pet can expose you to new interests and activities. Maybe it's cleaning up the neighborhood park where you walk your dog. Some hospitals seek pet owners who will volunteer to bring in their pets to spend time with patients.

    Protection. A dog can provide significant security. Potential thieves will stay away from a home with a barking dog. Your watchdog may weigh only 8 pounds soaking wet, but the person on the other side of the door doesn't know that.

    Taking care of something. Sure, you need your pet. Your pet needs you, too. The need to be useful and of value doesn't magically disappear when your career ends or your kids grow up and build their own independent lives. It is very satisfying to take care of another living creature.

    Investing in life. At the end of the day, having a pet means that you have made a promise to continue being involved in another life. This commitment is one of the most positive decisions you can make as you get older.