New research reveals why adopting a pet may be just what the doctor ordered

I recently read an interesting new study about the many ways older adults benefit from having a pet. It reminded me of the 1950s song “I’m Walkin’ the Dog” by country-western singer Webb Pierce.

In just a few lines, he captures pretty much the whole story:

“Well, I’m full of pep, I just can’t grow old
I got a one track mind, so I’ve been told
But I’m fancy free, I don’t worry no how
And I’m walking the dog all the law will allow”

While the study synopsis is certainly less poetic than Mr. Pierce’s rhyming couplets, its content is similar.

It involved a little over 2,000 men and women, ages 50 to 80. And 55 percent of the participants had at least one pet.1

The researchers found that an overwhelming majority of older pet owners believe that their pets help them enjoy life to its fullest and give them a sense of purpose.

Plus, all kinds of pets—dogs, cats, fish, birds, small mammals, or other types of animals—were found to help people deal with the physical challenges of aging. Research indicates that pets reduce their owners’ stress levels, keep them physically active, and even help them cope with health issues like pain.

The study also found that pets help reduce loneliness. And research shows that people who are lonely not only have greater rates of chronic disease, but are also more likely to suffer an early death.

I have become an animal lover myself, and all of these findings make perfect sense to me. After all, who isn’t delighted by a pet’s good-hearted antics? Not to mention the heartwarming feeling created by their loyalty, attention, and affection.

When you should—and shouldn’t—get a pet

Of course, not everyone wants a pet. Some study respondents were concerned about caring for the animal’s health (and the associated costs), as well as the losses and heartbreak that occur due to pets’ naturally short lifespans.

In addition, pets require you to make adjustments to your schedule and adapt to their needs. Or, some people are simply allergic, although as I explained in a recent Daily Dispatch, exposure to pets and farm animals in early childhood is associated with lower rates of asthma and allergies in later life.

These are certainly valid concerns. But if you are an animal aficionado, I encourage you to have a pet. And I think you’ll be able to relate to the following tongue-in-cheek personal observations of the benefits of having a furry (or feathered or gilled) friend by your side.

In Florida, we live in a mile-long waterfront development set on acres of green space on a barrier island (or “key”) off the coast of Sarasota. The development acrimoniously split into “north and south” sections years ago on the issue of keeping pets.

Our side allows pets, and generally speaking, the people here are friendly, easy-going, intelligent, well-informed, and accommodating. But next door, where they don’t allow pets…well, let’s just say, they seem quite the opposite.

Of course, it makes me wonder what would happen if they added a pet to their lives. Because according to this study, their lives would be a lot happier, more fulfilling, and lengthier.

So, adopt one if you can. There are many abandoned animals looking for a home that would make fine pets. Because at the end of the day, research shows it will be good for both of you (and even the people around you).