There are many things that can help heal someone who is ill, from taking medications and practicing meditation to eating well and sleeping properly. According to researchers, pets can also have a healing effect on people.

Since the late 1970s, researchers have been exploring the healing power of pets. One study found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. Another study found that cat owners were 30 percent less likely to die of a heart attack or stroke than non-cat owners. Cats’ purr vibrations are even medically therapeutic, lowering stress, decreasing symptoms of dyspnea, lowering blood pressure, and healing infection and swelling.

In “The Effects of Pet Ownership on Physical Well-being in Older Adults,” researcher Tami Pohnert finds pet owners are more likely to have a positive self-perception of health, normal blood pressure, improved function, less chronic conditions, improved function, and fewer physician visits and nursing home stays than non-pet owners.

Every June, American Humane hosts Adopt-a-Cat Month to encourage people everywhere to rescue a cat — or two — from an animal shelter. More than 3 million cats enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year, and each year, approximately 860,000 cats are euthanized, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Given that large numbers of seniors are not only at higher risk for heart disease and chronic illnesses but are also more like to be socially isolated and lonely — and that it’s Adopt-a-Cat Month — perhaps it’s time to think about adopting a cat or purchasing a pet for the aging loved one in your life.

Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking of adopting:

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  • What type of personality do you have? Just like people, cats have unique personalities. Some are easygoing, and others are more active. Ask the adoption counselors to help you match the individual cat’s personality with your own. 
  • Do you want one or two cats? Cats require exercise, mental stimulation and social interaction, so animal shelters often encourage people to consider taking home two cats. However, multiple pets might be too difficult for seniors to manage. 
  • Is your home cat-proof? As you get older, you might need to make minor modifications to your home to make it easier to age in place. Similarly, there are certain things you should do to make sure your house is ready to be a home to a cat. Don’t leave food on the counter. Get rid of loose items your cat might chew on. Make sure electrical cords are out of the way. 
  • Are you financially stable? Pets cost money, from stocking up on cat litter, food, scratching posts, stimulating toys and grooming supplies to paying for veterinary visits. Make sure you’ve budgeted for the short- and long-term costs of a cat.

“American Humane has rescued innumerable cats during the past century,” said the organization’s president and CEO, Dr. Robin Ganzert. “But there are still millions more healthy, adoptable pets in shelters around the country, just waiting for someone to be their hero by rescuing them and bringing them home. American Humane’s Adopt-a-Cat Month not only encourages people to give loving homes to animals in need but offers an opportunity to provide a wider focus on the ongoing need these beautiful animals face all year-round.”

If you or your loved one is a veteran considering companion pet adoption, Pets for Patriots helps United States military veterans adopt a new pet friend while giving the most overlooked shelter dogs and cats hope and a home. Veteran applicants are required to live within 40 driving miles of an existing Pets for Patriots shelter or rescue partner and 15 driving miles of a Pets for Patriots veterinary partner. See if there is a program near you.

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