Furry Friends: 1 in 10 Older U.S. Adults Has Adopted a 'Pandemic Pet'

WEDNESDAY, March 24, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- It was bound to happen: As the pandemic wore on, many older Americans couldn't resist the urge to bring home a furry friend.

According to a new poll from the University of Michigan, about 10% of all U.S. adults between the ages of 50 and 80 adopted a new pet between March 2020 and January 2021. That number was 16% for people aged 50 to 80 who have a child under 18 at home and 9% for those who don't have children at home.

"We are delighted to see not just worthy animals get homes, but also to see people get much needed unconditional love as well," said Wendy Welch, director of communications at the Humane Society of Huron Valley, in Michigan. That shelter has seen record-high increases in adoptions during the pandemic.

"While grandparents have sadly been separated from hugging their grandchildren, furry friends have been OK to snuggle. It's well documented that pets can help lower our blood pressure, ease anxiety and improve symptoms of depression," Welch said in a university news release.

"And of particular interest during this isolating pandemic, companion animals certainly stave off the silent killer: loneliness. We are so thankful to the older adults who've opened up their hearts and homes to shelter animals during this time," she added.

Pet ownership was higher among those aged 50 to 64, women, white respondents and those who live in single-family detached homes or are employed. About 12% percent of older adults who are employed said they got a pet since March 2020.

Of those who live alone, the percentage of those having a pet jumped 12 points between the sample reported in a 2019 study and the January 2021 sample, according to the National Poll on Healthy Aging.

Older adults said having a pet helped them enjoy life and reduce stress. It gave them a sense of purpose, kept them on a routine and connected them with other people. For dog owners, it helped them be physically active.

Pets are important companions for older adults living alone, according to the university, especially during the pandemic when many older adults stayed home because of their higher risk of developing severe COVID-19.

The poll data from January is from a sample of just over 2,000 people in the United States. About 59% of people aged 50 to 80 said they are pet owners.

Poll director Dr. Preeti Malani said she also had added a pandemic puppy to her family, which includes a high school-age child studying at home. The family members are first-time pet owners and the puppy has required more attention than they expected, but he has also been a welcome diversion during troubling times.

"Sully has been a great addition," Malani said. "He makes sure we get outside every day. I've also met several other dog owners in the neighborhood."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on pet ownership and health.

SOURCE: University of Michigan--Michigan Medicine, news release, March 22, 2021

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