Pets Are Good For Our Health
Most pet owners can agree there is immediate joy that comes with sharing their lives with companion animals. However, many of us remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of being with a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond. Pets have evolved to become attuned to humans and our behavior and emotions. Dogs, for example, are able to understand many of the words we use, our tone of voice, body language and gestures. Pets, especially dogs and cats, can reduce stress, anxiety, ease loneliness and depression, encourage exercise/playfulness and even improve your cardiovascular health. Caring for an animal can help children, grow up more active and secure. Pets also provide valuable companionship for older adults. Most importantly though, a pet can add real joy and unconditional love to your life.
Positive Health Effects
No doubt about it; animals can make people feel good and stay well. You may be surprised at just how many ways a pet can improve your health.
Better blood pressure – Having a pet can help you manage your blood pressure. In one study of 240 married couples, pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates than people who didn’t have a pet. Another study showed that when children with high blood pressure pet their dog, their numbers improved.
Mood boost – It only takes a few minutes with a dog or cat to feel calmer and less stressed. Your body actually goes through physical changes that make a difference in your mood. The level of cortisol, a stress hormone, lowers. And serotonin, a feel-good chemical your body makes, rises.
Lower cholesterol – People who have pets tend to have better levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, compared to people who don’t. Part of it could be the more active lifestyle that comes with having pets.
Ease depression – No one loves you more unconditionally than your pet. It could even help you deal with and recover from depression. You’ll probably feel calmer when you pet a cat or dog. And taking care of an animal-walking it, grooming it, playing with it takes you out of yourself and helps you feel better about the way you spend your time.
Boost your fitness – If you have a dog, you’re probably more active than someone who doesn’t have one. A daily 30-minute walk with your pooch helps keep you moving. Add in a game of fetch in the back yard with your dog and you’ll be even more fit. Fewer allergies, stronger immunity- When children grow up in a home with a dog or cat they are less likely to develop allergies. The same is true for kids who live on a farm with large animals. Higher levels of certain immune system chemicals show a stronger immune system, which will help keep them healthy as they get older.
Alert diabetes – For people with diabetes, a sudden drop in the level of blood glucose can be very serious. Some dogs can alert their owner before it actually happens. They may sense chemical changes in the body that give off a scent. The alarm gives the owner time to eat a snack to avoid the emergency. About one in three dogs living with people with diabetes have this ability.
Autism – Sensory issues are common among children with Autism. Sensory integration activities help them get used to the way something feels against their skin and to certain smells or sounds. Dogs and horses have both been used in these activities. The children usually find it calming to work with animals while they still hold the child’s attention.
Seizure dogs – These dogs have been trained to live and work with people who have epilepsy. Some are trained to bark and alert; some lie next to or on a person having a seizure to prevent injury. Some work also has dogs trained to warn before a seizure happens.
True Animal Stories
Whether someone’s elderly, blind, scared or hurt, dogs have repeatedly taken action to rescue people. From car accidents and house fires to near-drownings and overseas combat, countless humans owe their lives to the bravery and determination of their dogs, a neighbor’s dog or even a four-legged stranger. Here’s a couple of heartwarming examples of dogs being humanity’s best friend.
- In the winter of 2017, a man slipped into the snow in the frigid Michigan wilderness and broke his neck. His golden retriever, Kelsey, laid on top of her owner to keep him warm for a full 19 hours, barking constantly until help arrived.
- In the spring of 2018 in New York, a Yorkshire terrier named Jazzy had an owner who was diabetic. When the owner fell unconscious, she tried to wake him by nudging his chin and barking frantically. This alerted the man’s mother, who was able to wake him before he went into diabetic shock.
- In 2017, a king shepherd from British Columbia named Sako was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame. Having survived a car accident that killed almost all of the passengers apart from Sako and his teenage owner, the dog took care of his badly wounded owner for 40 hours until rescuers found them. Throughout the ordeal, Sako kept the teenager warm, led him to water and fought off coyotes!
- A Belgian Malinois Army dog named Layka lost a leg in 2012 after being shot four times with an AK-47 while clearing a Taliban compound in Afghanistan. The soldiers she served credited her actions with saving their lives.
The research findings are encouraging, so it makes sense to conduct more studies on how human-animal interaction influences our health. We don’t yet know precisely what types of animals influence what types of health issues (physical, mental, and social well-being) and what characteristics about human-animal interaction are most important. People who have pets know that there are many benefits to having a companion animal, but we do not yet know under what circumstances those benefits are most likely. If continued research shows specific health benefits under specific circumstances, that information can be used to change policies in ways that benefit even more adults and children, by influencing rules and regulations for schools, health or assisted living facilities, residential treatment centers and other places where people’s exposure to animals is sometimes discouraged but could potentially be encouraged.