The cat is out of the bag. Felines and canines are not only cute and cuddly companions, but they are also proven to improve the mental health, as well as decrease doctor visits, for seniors. While man has always cherished having a furry friend around, researchers are now specifying that it is never too late to pick up a pet, and for first time dog or cat owners, it is better late than never.

Psychologists at Miami and Saint Louis University attempted to discover whether pet ownership could affect our social lives, as well as providing additional mental benefits. First, the doctors issued a questionnaire for 217 people who either owned a pet or did not, and instructed subjects to detail areas of their lifestyle, personality and attachment style. The researchers noted that pet owners responded with overall greater signs of happiness and were generally healthier than those without companions. A second experiment involved dog-owners who were an average age of 42, and analyzed more of the social aspects of raising a canine. The researchers again found that owning a dog can help boost self-esteem, sensations of belonging as well as a better feeling of self-existence.   

Dr. Allen R. McConnell, a professor at Miami University and co-author of the study, expressed his confidence that people who own a pet are more likely to be satisfied with their lives and well-being.

"We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions," McConnell said in a statement. "Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extroverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners."

Further research has continued to indicate that perhaps the greatest benefit of owning a pet are the social advantages they can deliver, especially to those with diagnosed mental illnesses. In her study titled, "The Role of Pets in Enhancing Human Well-being: Effects for Older People," Dr. Lynette A. Hart, a professor at the University of California Davis, submitted seniors who had developed Alzheimer's to undergo weekly training sessions with Golden Retrievers, finding that patients improved in overall social interaction and showed increased states of calmness while being around the animals. Hart also found that dog companionship was crucial for some owners, with 75 percent of elderly males and 67 percent of females declaring that their dog was their primary or only friend.

Other benefits of owning a pet
Sure, cats and dogs are great for having a loyal companion and social icebreaker around, but there is even more to gain through owning a pet. Here are a few ways having a little buddy around can improve your quality of life and keep you motivated.

Getting in a routine
Waking up early in the morning to take the dog out or feed the cat is a terrific way to start the day, not just because your companion will thank you greatly, but it also provides a sense of purpose. Taking care of an animal can offer some structure to your life, which in turn can inspire you to take on other hobbies and activities you never thought you could tackle. Plus, walking the pet around the block is a great form of exercise.

The older we get, the harder it can be to protect ourselves. Dogs are extremely defensive of their owner and home, and can help alert you or neighbors close by if an intruder or accident is occurring. Even if your guard dog is a tiny Chihuahua, sometimes the bark is more effective than the bite.

Staying active
It is often hard to stay determined and find time to exercise properly. If you own a dog, it can force you to go outside, get some fresh air and burn off some calories by taking a stroll through the neighborhood. Even little things like getting up to feed or play with the cat can stimulate your body and keep you active. 

Seizing the day   
When you are a pet owner, your worries about the future tend to fade away, because caring for animal is a one-day-at-a-time process. If you are constantly stressed with the potential troubles of tomorrow, having a little friend around can not only ease your anxiety or tension but can remind you the joys of living in the now.