Do Pets Increase Retirement Happiness?

Studies show that pets increase retirement happiness, particularly among older people.

The companionship of a beloved dog or cat boosts happiness, improves general well-being, and enhances life satisfaction.   Pets reduce overall stress levels.

If you come home to an empty house, pets will offer a greeting. Owners with pets have improved physical and mental health as they care for another living being. The companionship of an animal decreases loneliness. Pets, especially dogs provide security as they protect both an owner and property.

Pets welcome you home

Pets can be relied upon for an enthusiastic ‘welcome home’ greeting when owners return.  Whether you’ve been out of the house for an hour or for a week, a dog will give  a boisterous, excited greeting.  You know you were missed!

Cats may seem oblivious and disinterested but they  constantly check comings and goings of owners. Our cats acknowledge a home-coming  only if we’ve been away for a significant amount of time, perhaps for an overnight stay.  They  rub their bodies along our legs.  They smell our shoes. They follow us from room to room with purrs and meows to provide a welcome home.

Pets improve health

Positive physical health effects come from owning a pet.

The American Heart Association published findings indicating that pet ownership, especially owning a dog, could result in reduced cardiovascular risk .  Why?  Dogs get you moving. They give a reason to get outdoors. Dog owners can’t avoid leaving the house for daily walks.   Regardless of weather, fido needs to get outside.

The structure and routine of walking has significant positive health benefits for both owner and pet.  As well as physical exercise, the daily walks provide another health benefit, Vitamin D exposure.

Getting out of the house also provides an opportunity to engage with others as pets are great conversation starters.  This socialization counteracts loneliness and isolation, especially among seniors living alone.

Mental health improves from interactions with a pet. Elderly pet owners, especially, benefit from knowing that a non-judgemental companion shares the joys and sorrows of each day. Daily chores of feeding, cleaning and caring for pets give a reason to get up in the morning.

A cuddle with a warm furry friend or a hug from a pet, improves mood. While most pets aren’t huggers, they do like to cuddle.  Cats purr in response to having a ‘head rub’; they love to curl up on warm lap.  Dogs wag their tails and drool to show happiness with their owners. Such enjoyable interactions with pets reduce stress levels resulting in improved mental and emotional well-being.

Pets Alleviate Loneliness

Pets provide a relationship replacement. When one of my friends lost her husband, a friend brought a stray kitten to her home. My friend had always been a dog lover. She never liked cats nor pictured herself owning a cat.

Surprisingly, she  found herself warming to this kitten who began to follow her around the house.  The kitten knew when she needed quiet time.  The kitten’s playfulness got her off the couch.  She found new reason to get up in the morning as the cat needed feeding and wanted attention through play.

Not only was my friend’s loneliness reduced with companion in her home, the kitten helped to reduce her grief as she learned to cope with widowhood. It was a win-win situation as the kitten needed care and my friend needed the companionship of another living thing.

Pets Protect and Guard Their Owners

A noisy dog serves as a security system when you live alone.

My widowed neighbour’s tiny dog weighs less than 10 pounds yet his bark protects her by loud barking whenever anyone approaches the driveway or deck leading to her cottage.

Many people choose large dogs and train them as guard dogs.  I grew up on a remote farm in Saskatchewan where every family owned one or two dogs that patrolled the farm to protect property and to herd the farm animals.

Pets have their drawbacks

Pet ownership brings drawbacks. Astronomical veterinary bills, costs for food, toys, and other pet accessories take a bite out of retirement income.  Boarding and kennelling a pet or finding a pet watcher adds to the cost of vacations.

The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BCSPCA) estimated the average annual cost (2013) for owning and caring for a dog at $1196 Canadian dollars annually. For a cat, the cost averaged $899. These amounts include food, veterinary care, grooming and vacation boarding costs.

Ultimately, costs aren’t viewed as a burden by people who love their pets.

Our cats are healthy so they don’t cost us a lot of money. However, we always consider how they will fare if we will be away for more than one or two days.

Vacuuming cat hair from furniture is an endless challenge. Regardless of whether at home or at the cottage, keeping the cats off our bed has not been successful. They manage to sneak to the bed when backs are turned seeking the warmth of a down comforter or quilt. I’ve invested in a special vacuum brush for cleaning the cat hair after nap time.

Woody cat curled up on my quilt
Woody cat curled up on my cottage quilt
Sister Tinks in her favourite spot on the bed
Sister Tinks at her favourite spot on the comforter

Most pet owners don’t put a dollar value on the enthusiastic greetings, unconditional love and loyal companionship.

Rather, it comes down to companionship and relationship with another living thing. The life-long devotion of a beloved pet is an investment that increases retirement happiness.



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