Man's best friend comes with health benefits

Should Pop get a pup?

This story is sponsored by Baptist Health.

While a pet can provide great fun, love and companionship, older adults, in particular, have much to gain from caring for a furry friend.

There is nothing like the feeling of coming home to a pet, wagging its tail in excitement, waiting for you by the door or its warm fur as it lies next to you in bed. Companionship is one of the many benefits of owning a pet as they provide love, comfort and protection.

“I have had many patients who find pets to be fantastic companions that help them emotionally and sometimes are the main constant in their lives,” said Courtney Ross, MD, a geriatrician at Baptist AgeWell, a primary care program for adults over 65.

Psychological benefits
Pets also come with many hidden health benefits. According to a Harvard study, dogs have been proven to decrease the risk of heart disease and blood pressure, especially in older adults. Interacting with animals, like dogs and cats, has been shown to increase levels of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin while decreasing levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone. This allows the pet owner to be calm and more mindful.

“I recently had a patient tell me that despite her medical problems, her dog was part of her ‘therapy,’ and she didn’t know how she’d cope without him,” said Dr. Ross. “I think others would say the same.”

Research proves that pet owners feel less isolated and more social than non-owners.

Physical benefits
A recent study found that pet owners, specifically those who own dogs, spend about 200 more minutes a week of walking than people without dogs. Due to the responsibility of having to interact and make sure your pup gets the right amount of exercise, sometimes requiring that you walk them, it is easier for pet owners to get in more daily steps compared to someone without.

Caution and care
While pets can contribute a wide range of health benefits to an older adult, they aren’t for everyone as they require a lot of care. Dr. Ross suggests that before an older adult takes on the responsibility of a furry friend, be sure that he or she has the ability to adequately care for it physically, economically and emotionally. And as most pet owners would say, pets are like a member of the family, so remember to show them plenty of love and affection.

Written by Jayda Rhodes, Ribault High School senior and sophomore at Florida State College of Jacksonville.

AgeWell is a unique kind of primary care that helps adults 65 and over get ahead of common aging issues. AgeWell accepts Medicare and patients who qualify don’t need a doctor’s referral. To request an appointment, call 904-202.4243 or learn more at Baptist AgeWell.