The companionship and unconditional love that pets offer can help older adults reduce stress and increase hormones that promote joy, nurturing and relaxation, according to the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri. But which pet is best for a retirement lifestyle?
With a little help from Warren Eckstein, a pet psychologist in Santa Monica, Calif. and Sedona, Ariz., we nominate these pets to be your next companion.
Best mobility boosters: Dogs
“Because they are so active, dogs act as catalysts for more physical activity in their owners,” Eckstein says. Walking a dog for 10 minutes at a time can help seniors work toward the goal of 150 minutes of weekly aerobic exercise, recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Walking your dog also allows you the opportunity to socialize with others who are out walking, Eckstein says.
Bonus: Trained service dogs can help seniors with mobility issues complete their daily activities and chores.
Best conformists: Cats
There is an abundance of older, house-trained cats available for adoption across the United States. “These cats are ideal for seniors who are looking for a pet that fits in their lifestyle or their activity level—without a lot of training or maintenance,” Eckstein says. Cats can easily develop their own routines in new environments. This makes them ideal companions for pet lovers who may travel or move.
Bonus: Cat owners have one-third lower of a risk for heart attack than non-cat owners, according researchers at the University of Minnesota. This is attributed to cats’ ability to reduce your stress and anxiety, which might otherwise negatively impact cardiovascular health.
Best stress-relievers: Fish
Seeking a stress-relieving pet but without all the fur? Opt for fish. The very act of watching fish swim around a fishbowl or aquarium can reduce stress. “That’s why so many dental offices have fish in the waiting rooms—they’re relaxing,” Eckstein says.
Bonus: While all fish can be soothing, goldfish offer the most longevity with an average life span of 5–10 years and are relatively easy to manage.
Best conversationalists: Small birds
Small birds such as parakeets and cockatiels make excellent pets for seniors who live alone or who wish to fill the house with a little more noise. “Birds give seniors the opportunity to nurture, talk and teach,” Eckstein says. With a little time and attention, an owner could teach a parakeet to whistle or speak.
Bonus: Small birds require only a cage and the space of a tabletop and can easily be trained to sit on the owner’s hand or finger, if the owner wishes.