Science Says a Pet Can Significantly Ease Depression After the Loss of a Spouse

Your furry best friend will always be there for you.

having a pet can reduce loneliness in older adults

Losing a spouse—be it due to death or divorce—can be absolutely devastating, so much so that some studies say it can take years off your life. And if you've ever dealt with this kind of loss, you've likely heard the advice to lean on friends and family or get more involved in your community to fend off feelings of loneliness and depression. But, while those things do certainly help, they can't take away the sadness of coming home to a suddenly empty house. Now, a new study published in the journal The Gerontologist has proof that another support system could help those in the grieving process: a pet.

Researchers from the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy at Florida State University, Tallahassee, analyzed data on adults ages 50 and older and found that those who experienced spousal loss without a pet experienced more depression and loneliness than those who had a cat or a dog. As a result, the researchers concluded that—for this age group at least—having a companion animal "may buffer against the detrimental consequences of major social losses on psychological health."

"Our findings suggest that pets could help individuals avoid the negative consequences of loneliness after a loss," Dawn Carr, an associate professor of sociology at Florida State University and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "You can talk to your dog. They're not going to tell you you're a bad person, they're just going to love you. Or you can pet your cat, and it's calming."

While no one can ever be replaced, of course, a pet can make things a little easier by giving you a reason to get out of bed every morning, as well as the knowledge that there's someone who's excited to see you when you get home.

"Oftentimes, the relationship we have with our spouse is our most intimate, where our sense of self is really embedded in that relationship," Carr explained. "So, losing that sense of purpose and meaning in our lives that comes from that relationship can be really devastating. A pet might help offset some of those feelings. It makes sense to think, 'Well at least this pet still needs me. I can take care of it. I can love it and it appreciates me.' That ability to give back and give love is really pretty powerful."

And for more on the benefits of owning a pet, check out Here's Why Having a Pet After 50 Makes You a Healthier Person.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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