Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. All up, we have 29 million pets and about 61 per cent of homes have at least one pet.
According to the RSPCA, in 2020, dogs were the most popular (40 per cent) and cats second with 27 per cent.
Pets are faithful companions. They greet us enthusiastically when we return home and amuse us with their antics. In time, pets become much-loved members of the household.
For seniors with health conditions they can offer particular advantages. Let’s look at two examples.
A study among people with dementia focused on fish as pets. Fish tanks were installed in the dining rooms and common rooms of several nursing homes.
In other homes, static scenes of the ocean were displayed in communal areas. In homes where fish tanks were installed patients gained an average of 0.75kg in weight.
Measurements were taken three months before the experiment and four months after the tanks went in.
Those who had the static ocean scenes to look at showed no weight gain.
It is possible the calming effect of watching the fish swimming reduced agitation and therefore helped with weight gain.
Other research showed the presence of a dog can reduce hypertension.
People who suffered high blood pressure were divided into two groups. One group was told to get a pet.
Six months later, both groups were revisited and asked to solve an arithmetic problem and give a speech. Those with pets showed a superior ability to cope with these stressful situations. Their blood pressure rose only marginally.
The researchers found just having a dog in the room while giving a speech led to a much-reduced increase in blood pressure. If the pet owner’s own dog was present, their blood pressure dropped for up to one hour.
Pet ownership also gives many people a daily routine. Owners have to feed the pets, provide water and attend to their other needs.
Pets bring warmth and affection into our lives and provide a talking point, a way to connect with neighbours and visitors.
Unfortunately, some older Australians struggle to keep their pets as their health and mobility deteriorates, but before taking the drastic step of relinquishing a much-loved pet, take time to consider all options.
Perhaps a family member or friend can share the care of a pet.
On the Sunshine Coast there is an active community group called Pets for Life. Its purpose is to help older people and people with disabilities who are struggling with the usual care of their pets.
Pets for Life arranges for a volunteer to visit the pet owner a few times a week.
Currently the program has 75 registered pet owners who are supported by 100 volunteers. The volunteers offer practical help. They can take a dog for a walk, assist with grooming or change a litter tray. It is not a free dog walking service for busy people.
The program has many positive outcomes for pet owners. Firstly, they do not have to give up their pet and secondly, owners and volunteers share a chat and a cuppa. New social connections are formed.
This is invaluable for someone who may be isolated by age, mobility issues or disability.
The volunteers benefit too. They feel useful and enjoy meeting new people. The program is flexible as visiting times are arranged between the pet owner and the volunteer.
If you wish to know more about the Pets for Life call co-ordinator Mark Wischnat on 0414 519 047.
Kendall Morton is the Director of Home Care Assistance Sunshine Coast to Wide Bay. Call 5491 6888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org