The Benefits of Pet Companionship in Retirement

Discover the many benefits of having a pet as a companion in your retirement years.

Retired couple feeling happy with their dog outside

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Pets are our friends and family members. They are our loyal companions and bring love and joy into our lives.

While there are benefits to having pets at every stage in your life, there are many important quality-of-life benefits associated with having pets in retirement, such as contributing to healthy aging for senior citizens. 

If you’re thinking about getting a pet in your golden years, here are some of the benefits, as well as other important retirement lifestyle factors to consider when making the decision about adding a four-legged or feathered family member.

Pet Benefit: Can increase overall wellbeing/health 

Pets enrich our lives physically and have an overall positive effect on our health in retirement. The American Heart Association reports “pet ownership may help increase fitness levels, relieve stress, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and boost overall happiness and wellbeing.” 1^American Heart Association, “Can Your Pet Help You Be Healthier?” 2019

Another cardiovascular study showed cats, in particular, can help reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, including stroke, in high-risk individuals. 2^Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology, Volume 2, Number 1, “Cat ownership and the Risk of Fatal Cardiovascular Diseases. Results from the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Study Mortality Follow-up Study,” 2009

There are other wellbeing benefits to having a pet in retirement, especially when it comes to bonding with your animal through petting and playtime. This is an important interaction between you and your pet, and can help you deal with daily stress. 

A Washington State University study found 10 minutes of hands-on interaction, socializing and petting time with your animal can significantly lower salivary cortisol levels, which helps reduce a person’s physiological stress. 3^Washington State University, “Animal Visitation Program (AVP) Reduces Cortisol Levels of University Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” 2019

Pet Benefit: Can increase fitness and activity levels

When it comes to exercising, both you and your pet will reap the rewards for the activity. This could mean taking your dog for a walk, going to a dog park or playing with your cat indoors. 

During retirement, pets can help provide the motivation to stretch, move around and get outdoors. Even picking up toys and dishes or cleaning a litter box can help use different muscles throughout the body and keep your joints loose and limber. 

The American Heart Association has reported that people with pets, specifically cats and dogs, have increased levels of physical activity, compared to those without pets. This increased activity leads to lower blood pressure and decreased stress levels, among other reported benefits. 4^American Heart Association Journals: Circulation, “Pet Ownership and Cardiovascular Risk” 2013

The key to pets and exercise in retirement is to find an animal whose energy and activity levels matches your own. 

Pet Benefit: Can provide a sense of structure and purpose

A University of Michigan national poll of pet-owning adults ages 50-80 reported pets help them enjoy life (88 percent), reduce stress (79 percent), provide a sense of purpose (73 percent) and stick to a routine (62 percent). 5^University of Michigan: National Poll on Healthy Aging, “How Pets Contribute to Healthy Aging,” 2019

Your pets rely on you for every one of their needs. You feed them, take them to the veterinarian, keep them active and clean up after them. These daily activities can give people a sense of structure and purpose. This is significant because once retirees leave the professional workplace or corporate world, they might be looking for something to fill a new routine or help create a new normal.

It’s hard to be listless or let the time aimlessly pass by with a pet. Dogs will noisily bark when it’s time for them to go outside so they can use the bathroom. Cats will loudly meow to let you know when it’s feeding time, or if you have forgotten it. Pets are an important responsibility and need your love, care and attention.

Pet Benefit: Can provide social connection and companionship

The University of Michigan national poll also showed, of those surveyed, pets make them feel loved (86 percent), help them connect with others (65 percent) and be physically active (64 percent).  5^University of Michigan: National Poll on Healthy Aging, “How Pets Contribute to Healthy Aging,” 2019

To pets, their owners are their entire world. If you live alone or don’t live near family members, pets can help provide a sense of companionship. Some animals can also sense if something is wrong, especially if you’re feeling lonely or sad. 

Recent studies suggest that dogs can discriminate emotional expressions of their human owners faces by using their canine memories. 6^ Current Biology, “Dogs Can Discriminate Emotional Expressions of Human Faces,” 2015

Pets can also help with creating new social connections. Walking dogs outdoors or taking them to a local dog park can help get you fresh air and meet new people. And, if you have a cat or other animal, there are pet strollers available to also help get your and your animal outside. Plus, a cat in a pet stroller is a great conversation starter. 

Things to also consider when adopting a pet

While having a pet in retirement has many benefits, there are many other lifestyle factors to consider before making that decision, because having a pet is a big commitment and responsibility. 

Is one of your goals in retirement to travel across the country? If so, you may want to consider getting a pet that is able to travel with you. If you have limited mobility, especially with getting outside, a dog that needs a lot of exercise and walks might not be your first pet choice. Also, a smaller pet might be a good choice if you have downsized in retirement. 

There’s also a pet’s age to consider. Potty training a new puppy can be a lot to handle, and an older pet who is more mature and well-trained might be a better option. 

If having a pet to care for in retirement is ideal for you, there are a lot of animals out there who need a home. You can visit your local animal shelter to find the animal that fits your wants and needs. Pets can be a great addition to your retirement, especially with all of the mental and physical wellbeing benefits they can provide.



The content provided is for informational purposes only and does not constitute advice. For specific details on how this may apply to your personal situation contact your personal financial advisor or insurance agent for more details. American Equity contracts are only sold through independent agents. Please contact your state insurance department to see if there is an independent insurance agent in your area appointed to sell American Equity annuity contracts.