Five reasons to get a pet when you retire

Woman and her dog

Pets are good for your physical and mental health.

You’ve ditched the 9-5 and your kids are all grown up – at last, you can enjoy your time however you want. So what’s your plan? Buy an RV for a cross-country adventure? Start writing that mystery novel? Surprisingly, for many people, the answer's a little more mundane: They want to adopt a pet.

The rate of pet ownership among older adults has been steadily increasing over the last decade. A full 54% of Baby Boomers own pets – and, even more telling, over 1 million of them own a dog under a year old.

It might seem strange to commit to a pet when you’re finally free from other responsibilities. After all, why saddle yourself with an animal’s daily needs when you can finally sleep in or travel at the drop of a hat?

But while the pet-free lifestyle has its appeal, there are some solid reasons to consider getting a dog or cat for your retirement years.

1. You’ll enjoy better health.

Not only are they cute, your fur baby can actually make you healthier. Both dog and cat owners have a lower risk of death from heart disease than non-owners. That may be in part because of how dogs and cats can reduce stress and help you feel more relaxed. In fact, pet owners have lower heart rates and blood pressure than their pet-less peers.

Pets can also help you to stay active. Walking or playing with your dog is a great way to get some cardio. And, if you have an indoor cat, engaging her with cat toys can be a fun way to work a few extra steps into your day.

Believe it or not, pets may even help you save a little money. Older people who own pets tend to have lower healthcare costs than those who don’t!

2. You’ll feel needed.

Many of us get a sense of identity and purpose from our jobs, and this can take a hit when you retire. Suddenly no one needs you to prepare the budget report or restock aisle 9. The very freedom you craved can leave you feeling adrift.

Having a sense of purpose not only feels good, it’s good for you. Research shows that people who feel a sense of purpose live longer than those who don’t.

Owning a pet can provide some of the routine and purpose that a workday has. Your furry friend can help structure your day and give you another reason to get up in the morning. Caring for a pet can restore your sense of responsibility and even boost your self-esteem.

3. You’ll always have a buddy.

Our jobs often provide a social component, one that can be sorely missed after retirement. In fact, 43% of adults over age 60 report feeling lonely.

For many people, pets provide much-needed companionship. They offer unconditional love and support, and they're always happy to see you. No one at your old job will wag his tail harder than your dog.

4. You’ll socialize more.

There’s probably no better way to meet new people than bringing along Fido. You’ll meet your dog-walking neighbors, especially those who stick to a regular routine. And dog parks are usually teeming with friendly canine lovers. Bring an iced coffee and join the group of other “proud parents” watching the dogs romp.

Cat owners don’t have to miss out on the social scene either. With a little encouragement, many cats can be trained to walk on a leash. You’re all but guaranteed to have a conversation if someone sees you walking your cat!

Even when you don’t have Mittens or Fido with you, it’s easy to make connections with other pet owners. You’ll never be at a loss for something to talk about as you compare notes on feline personalities, dog-friendly shops, and favorite hiking trails. And if you’re active on social media, you can even meet other pet owners online.

5. You’ll give your brain a boost.

Sure, online brain games may help keep you sharp, but they’re never going to curl up in your lap. New research suggests dogs and cats can actually slow mental decline in their owners. Now that’s news worth purring about!

The right pet for you

Your dream of the perfect retirement isn’t the same as your brother’s, so don’t get a dog just because your brother raves about his. In an interview with Martha Stewart Magazine, Kelly DiCicco, adoption manager for the ASPCA, says you should take the time to choose the best pet for you. “Your personality and lifestyle, along with the amount of time spent at home, should be considered to determine the pet that is right for your household,” DiCicco told the magazine.

However you envision spending your golden years, you can probably find a pet that fits your needs.

If you want to go RVing: Cats aren’t too crazy about car travel, so if RV life is calling you, a dog is the way to go. Choose a dog that will stick close to you, so he won’t get lost in new areas. Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Bichon Frises, and Maltese all make fine travel companions in tight quarters.

If you want to go hiking: Outdoorsy people need energetic dogs. Labs and golden retrievers will always be happy to blaze a trail by your side.

If you want to travel by plane: Small dogs are a smart choice for air travelers as they’ll fit in under-the-seat carriers. Compact breeds include Chihuahuas, Yorkshire terriers, and Pomeranians.

If you want to visit family: Well-mannered dogs that don’t bark much will often be welcome guests for weekend visits. Breeds that are known for being quiet include basenjis, French bulldogs, and Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Cats can be a good option, as well, since they can be left home for a few days with food, water, and a short daily visit from a neighbor.

If you want to catch up on reading: A lap cat is the perfect accompaniment to a long, quiet afternoon. Or look for a dog that doesn’t need much exercise. Bulldogs, basset hounds, and Shih Tzus are all low-energy dogs that enjoy loafing around.

If you want to stay out all day doing whatever you want: Maybe you just want the freedom to shop, visit friends, see a movie, and come back late. A cat’s the right pet for you. Between their independence and daytime napping, they may not even notice you’re gone!

No matter what type of pet you choose, there are many benefits to having a furry friend in retirement. With a little care, you can find the perfect companion for you.

Additional Resources

Lynn Cicchelli is a writer with over 20 years' worth of experience creating healthy lifestyle content for both print and digital publications. Originally from New York, Lynn currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, stepson, and dog Indiana.


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