Oct 18, 2023

The importance of pets in ageing

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The daily experiences of a dog, cat, rabbit, or any furry friend introduced into a child’s life can have a lasting effect on their well-being, social attachment and self-esteem. [Source: Shutterstock]

 We all remember our first pet, a dog, cat, rabbit or hamster; they all became the fabric of how we respond to the animal kingdom later in life. As we age, we value the attachment and social benefits that animals such as cats and dogs provide.

Our childhood memories of our beloved pets formed the foundation of how we learned to provide love and care to others. When talking to older people about their experiences with pets from the past, the reaction is one of nostalgia and loving memories of animals they once loved and were part of the family. The daily experiences of a dog, cat, rabbit, or any furry friend introduced into a child’s life can have a lasting effect on their well-being, social attachment and self-esteem.

Interaction with pets can improve levels of Serotonin, Prolactin, and Oxytocin; these hormones can assist in promoting pleasure and happiness, thus reducing depression, anxiety and loneliness among older people.

Dogs are effective in triggering memories of pets from the past amongst people living with dementia and can provide comfort and reassurance when introduced.

It could be memories of a pet from the past or the simple fact that people love dogs and know they provide unconditional love and devotion. Experiences of attachment and bonding come flooding back, and for some, the moment is of joy and excitement. Pet therapy is effective for many and is used extensively in aged care, with positive results in providing pleasure and happiness to many.

Animals, often dogs, fulfill a need; they provide comfort, security and a sense of worth. Memories of the responsibility people once had looking after and caring for a pet can provide a much-needed emotional response.   

One lady I spoke with told me she always had a labrador dog in her family from early childhood and throughout her married life.

She believed that the responsibility gained from an early age of walking her dog to feeding and caring for them provided her with the foundation to be a responsible, conscientious adult.

I spoke recently to *Tom, who told me that when his sight was failing, his beloved dog provided a sense of reassurance. The tactile feeling of a warm-blooded animal curled up on his lap ensured he was not alone and was loved.

It was Anatole France, a French novelist who once said, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains awakened.”

*All names used are fictitious to protect the individual’s identity

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