6 ways pets can improve your retirement years

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with roughly 4.6 million companion animals, of which 72% are "fur babies". And while the main reason for owning animals in New Zealand is companionship, there are so many more benefits to having a pet in retirement than simply enjoying their company.

Could getting a pet help make your retirement years more fun, more comfortable, and happier? Some people seem to think so!

We recently reached out to some of the people on the New Zealand Seniors Facebook page about the health benefits their pets bring to their lives. From cuddles and snuggles, to friendship and lowered blood pressure, here are some of the benefits of pet ownership we looked into. 

1. Pets can help us establish a routine

After years of waking up to an alarm, making breakfast and running out the door to work, for some of us retirement is quite a shock to the system.

While pets certainly aren’t as demanding as the average office workday, they can help us establish a routine in our home – from mealtimes to daily exercise, grooming, playtime and even afternoon siestas!

“The act of caring for a pet can bring about a sense of purpose and lessen loneliness and social isolation” says Head to Health, a mental health initiative.

2. Pets keep us active

Pets encourage us to move more, and this is particularly true for dog owners who take their canines out for walks every day.

It’s recommended that as we get older, we aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least 5 days a week. This could be a brisk walk or chasing around a new puppy with the grandchildren. Even throwing a ball to your dog in the back garden or getting up to let the cat in or out can add some incidental exercise to retirement. 

As well as keeping us active, it’s been reported that our pets might know when we are feeling unwell. Janelle on the New Zealand Seniors Facebook page says, “My fur baby always looks after me! When I was recently sick with the flu, he kept checking on me. I really feel that they know when we’re under the weather.”

Dog owners enjoy numerous health and social benefits by walking their dog a few times a week, including improved cardiovascular fitness, lower blood pressure, stronger muscles and bones (built up by walking regularly), and decreased stress.

3. Pets help us socialise

Dogs certainly get us out and about, meeting other dog owners on walks and at parks. Other animals also encourage socialising, for example at the vet during check-ups or at animal ownership clubs.

And when the pet isn’t around, they can be just as much of a talking point as grandkids. Associate Professor Dr Lisa Woods says, “Pet ownership appears to be a significant factor for facilitating social interaction and friendship formation within neighbourhoods (and) for pet owners, this also translates into new sources of social support.” 

4. Pets can lower our heart rate and blood pressure

It’s not uncommon to walk away from a doctor’s check-up with strict instructions to bring down that blood pressure or heart rate, but most of the ways of achieving this are not nearly as fun as owning a pet.

Having a pet at home has been shown to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, making it not just a cute decision to keep a fur baby, but a health-conscious one too.

We’ve even had anecdotal evidence of this recently on the New Zealand Seniors Facebook page. Debbie has two gorgeous black and white dogs that give her so much joy and happiness, as well as helping with her health. “My blood pressure is great,” Debbie explains, “and so is my anxiety - due to owning two dogs. Double the amount of fur in the house, equals double the amount of good health!”

Stroking and patting a pet can reduce the physiological indicators of stress, including high blood pressure, according to a Better Health Victoria article.

dogs on the beachside

5. Pets can encourage other visitors

You’re likely not the only one who will fall for the charms of your pet. Just don’t be surprised if the neighbours keep showing up to say hello!

Although they don’t really need bribes or incentives (or do they!?) your grandkids might be more likely to stop by for a visit when they know there’s a cute puppy or kitten to play with, and other friends and family members are just as likely to enjoy spending even more time at your place.

6. Pets can boost our mood

Feeling down? Some studies show that patting your pet or even watching a fish in a bowl can reduce stress levels. Owning a pet has also been connected to lower instances of loneliness, higher self-esteem and greater life satisfaction.

Lee from the New Zealand Seniors Facebook page seems to agree with this. He says, “Our fur babies give us so much - and all unconditional. They are so therapeutic.”

Ngaire says she loves her “girls” which are a cat and dog. She says, “When the nights are colder they both cuddle up to me in bed but I never allowed Zoe to lick my face - I used to say "give me a Maori kiss" then I rub noses with her!”

Owning a pet during retirement is not only beneficial for our mental and physical health, but it can also provide us with a much-loved companion to spend our days with. In some cases, it can even fill a vacancy left by a loved one or partner who may have passed on.

Are you a fan of the New Zealand Seniors Facebook page? All you have to do is follow us. Jump into conversations with fellow Kiwis and learn more about retirement, finance, and community life.