Choose well: Commit for life
In celebration of National Pet Week, we’ll be blogging each day corresponding with each pet week theme provided by the AVMA. Today we will publish two blogs. Below is our first blog.
The benefits of pet ownership go way beyond simple joy. Studies have shown that keeping a pet improves the health and well-being of the people in the household. These studies are referred to as “the pet effect.”
An apple a day may or may not actually keep the doctor away, but what about an animal a day? Now, that’s a different story. In fact, when it comes to pet ownership, there are many proven health benefits for people, including physical, mental, and emotional improvements, from enhancing social skills to decreasing a person’s risk of a heart attack. Opening your home to a furry friend may be just what the doctor ordered.
Bring People Together:
Pets allow people to be more social with other individuals. One of the fringe benefits of the responsibility of pet ownership is that animals can be an instant icebreaker. Whether they’re with you or you’re just using them as a topic in a conversation, a pet is a powerful ally for starting conversations and making acquaintances. Of course, few people would suggest getting a pet solely for this purpose, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that pets provide an excellent means for improving your socialization skills across the board, especially in terms of meeting and interacting with other pet owners. Though people sometimes may have a hard time getting to know each other, pets can be the common denominator that helps them connect – even among people who don’t seem to be very much alike. The need for human social interactions is so critical, without these bonds, ‘ individuals tend to be less involved and engaged in living and more vulnerable to depression.
Nearly all pet owners would agree that a pet can fill your heart with love. So maybe it’s only fitting that the presence of a pet can improve the overall health of that organ, too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have performed heart-related research on people who own pets. The findings showed that pet owners exhibited decreased blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels – all of which can ultimately minimize the risk of having a heart attack down the road. Even just relaxing with, talking to, or simply watching an animal was found to lower a person’s blood pressure. One study of patients with high blood pressure showed that those who were given pets, handled stressful tasks better than those who relied on blood pressure medication alone. The positive heart health effects of owning a pet don’t stop there. Animal companionship is commonly linked to lower death rates and better long-term health. For those individuals who already experienced a heart attack, studies have also shown that patients owning a pet (dog or cat) tend to have better recovery rates. These benefits are thought to be connected with the pet’s tendency to help reduce or at least control their owner’s stress levels.
Need a little motivation in the exercise department? Dogs can act as the perfect personal trainer, if only because most of them need to be walked several times a day. According to studies like those conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH), as long as you’re the one holding the leash, you’ll reap the rewards, which can include losing — or at least maintaining — weight. One study of more than 2,000 adults, found that dog owners responsible for walking their pups are less likely to be obese than dog owners who pass off the duty to someone else or those who don’t own dogs at all.
Improve Mental Health
An owner’s mood or physical capabilities do not change a pet’s affection. People of all ages, both healthy and ill, benefit from living with a pet. Pets are a great way to beat the blues and help their owners cope with personal setbacks. During stressful times, the comfort of a pet protects against depression and loneliness. Not only are they known to offer unconditional love, but they may also give their owners a sense of purpose, which can be crucial for those feeling down in the dumps. The simple acts of feeding and caring for a pet can makes the pet owner feel needed and provides another reason for living and staying healthy; while in turn the pet nurtures their owner.
Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and bring you feelings of joy and happiness. This is also true of the sick and elderly. Individuals who live “alone” with a pet actually see themselves as part of a family; they look forward to being greeted and recognized each morning or when they walk in the door.
Many hospitals and nursing homes see the emotional benefit of pets and use Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) or Pet-Facilitated Therapy (PFT) types of programs regularly to improve patient care.
Along with the ability to combat stress and relieve depression, pets can also enhance self-esteem, and their company has been shown to make children more empathetic.
If the idea of cuddling with a pet to help ward off allergies seems a little backward to you, the following may come as a surprise: University of Wisconsin-Madison pediatrician James E. Gern has conducted a number of studies that demonstrate having a pet in the home can lower a child’s likelihood of developing related allergies by as much as 33 percent. His research — as published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology — shows that children exposed early on to animals tend to develop more robust immune systems overall. While this might not mean much for adults who are already struggling with longstanding allergies, it is good news for families in which this isn’t already an established issue, but rather just a concern about what could happen down the road.
Pets of all kinds, make excellent companions, and provide many emotional and physical benefits. Before becoming a new pet owner, make sure that it is the right one for you and your family. Do some research beforehand about the specific needs of the animal.