Senior Dog Ownership: Health Benefits for Humans

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Grey muzzled dog in person's lap

This is a guest post on the Grey Matters Blog and not written by anyone affiliated with Grey Muzzle. We allow guest contributors from time to time in order to provide our supporters with a wide range of topics pertaining to senior dogs.

Those of use that have a senior dog in our lives already know that they add to our quality of life in many ways: loyal companionship, unconditional love, and a calming energy. However, the benefits go beyond making each day better.

Our canine companions can improve both our physical and mental health. This article will look at some of the research behind the notion that our canine companions add more to our lives than unconditional love: They actually make us healthier!

Physical Health

If you have an aging dog in your life, they may have special needs in terms of providing for their physical health. What you may not have realized is that this relationship is actually a two way street. Let’s take a look at the ways that dog ownership may be improving your physical health:

Heart Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans. Although there are certainly genetic components to heart disease, the progression of the disease is strongly influenced by lifestyle.

One of the most important lifestyle factors when it comes to heart health is stress levels. Research has shown that time spent with our canine companions lowers our stress at the hormonal level. Cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, decreases. Oxytocin, which has the opposite effect, increased after time spent petting dogs in one study.

Other studies have demonstrated a more direct link between our dogs and heart health by way of lowered blood pressure and reduced heart rates.

Pain Management

Another area of physical health that our senior dogs bring into our lives is that they may help decrease our perception of pain. This effect of spending time with dogs has been documented in numerous research studies. It has been tested post-operative patients, children, and people suffering from fibromyalgia.

In addition, the reduction of our perception of pain has been documented in cases involving therapy dogs. Since senior dogs are usually much calmer and less demanding, they often make outstanding therapy dogs. For those of us lucky enough to have an aging dog in our lives every day, we may be reaping the pain relieving benefits of our canine companions without even realizing it.

Elderly couple walking their dog
Physical Activity Levels

Our dogs give us plenty of reasons to get up off the couch and get more active. Although senior dogs tend to have lower exercise requirements than their younger counterparts, they still need their daily walks and outside time.

The positive impact of dog ownership on our physical activity levels has been well documented in numerous studies on several different age groups from children to seniors. In addition, it has been correlated to lower levels of obesity, another reason to thank your furry friend for supporting your wellness efforts!

Mental Health

Dogs don’t just help us take care of our bodies, they support our emotional and mental health as well. Research has shown that they may help us keep a positive state of mind, feel less isolated, and potentially even slow the progression of dementia among the elderly. Let’s take a closer look at the research:

Depression

Much of the research on dogs and their effect on depression in humans has been in the context of therapy dogs. The positive impact of time spent with dogs and our mood and depressive symptoms has been well documented in college aged students and the elderly as well.

Whether or not you suffer from clinical depression, having a senior dog in your life may well be contributing your overall mood. By providing us with unconditional love and a sense of purpose, senior dogs can make us feel better about ourselves and the world around us.

Feelings of Social Isolation

Loneliness and feelings of isolation are another specific area of mental health that dogs positively impact in human lives. This is great news since these negative feelings seem to be on the rise in modern life. Dogs can make us feel connected and loved.

In addition, our canine companions can sometimes even help us connect with other people! That’s right! It turns out that dogs may even be able to facilitate social interactions between people.

Another benefit of having a dog in your life is the sense of purpose that they can bring. Most owners of aging dogs already know that taking care of them gives us a sense of purpose. While it is sometimes easy to ignore our own needs, most of us will spring into action to make sure to provide the best life we can for our loyal companions. This deep connection many of us feel contributes in unspoken ways to our quality of life every day.

Dementia

Many senior people have grey muzzle dogs. And, one of the many mental health benefits they may reap from having an aging dog in their lives is improved outcomes when it comes to progressive dementia from diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

Research suggests that dogs may help people suffering from dementia by helping promote more social interactions and grounding them in the present which seems to guard against the tendency to withdraw into themselves, a characteristic trait of many forms of dementia.

Senior people and senior dogs are often a match made in heaven. Thanks to their lower energy levels, older dogs often don’t need the high levels of exercise that their younger counterparts require. In addition, since they already have their basic manners down pat, older dogs won’t require the same amount of training that pups need.

Senior Dogs Improve Our Lives

Despite the fact that some of our aging dogs may have special needs of their own, the benefits of dog ownership on our physical and mental health make the relationship a two way street. By lowering our risk factors for cardiovascular disease, decreasing our stress, and improving our mood and sense of social connection, dogs just make life better for their human companions.

The next time your senior pet looks up to you with big brown eyes saying she is ready to go outside for a walk, consider thanking her for all she does to improve your health and wellbeing. After all, she has earned it!

About the Author:

Sharon is a professional writer and received her M.S. in Science and Technology Studies from Virginia Tech and has worked as a professional dog trainer for over 10 years.