Over the decades, widespread studies have been done on the human-animal bond to document the effects of having a pet. Science has validated what we already knew; having a pet offers health benefits and can actually help you live longer. We thought we’d tell you some more about the specifics of how having a pet can benefit your health.
For Babies and Children– Stronger Immune System, Cultivating Character
Children who own pets learn about caring for others. Studies illustrate how pets can help kids in learning, encourage nurturing, providing comfort, and keeping them healthy. A study of kids aged eleven to sixteen showed that those with pets at homes developed a better comprehension of non-verbal communication. So when you scowl at your teenager, if he has a dog he’ll know that non-verbal expression means “Clean your room NOW!” Or at least we’d like to think that’s how it works. Even if your kid doesn’t get better at cleaning his room, he certainly will know what it’s like to clean litter boxes or scoop poop.
The old thinking was that if your family owned a pet, your children would be more likely to be allergic to the pet. If you were from an allergy-prone family, you were told to avoid pets. However, in line with a budding number of studies, researcher James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, proved that infants with a dog living at home will only have a 19% possibility in developing pet allergies. This is opposed to a 33% for infants from non-dog owning families. Starting your children out with a pet in the home actually reduces the chances that they will be allergic later on in life.
For Seniors – Less Illnesses, Quicker Recovery
According to a study from the Human Animal Bond Center at Purdue University, dog owners older than 50 visit their doctors less often, contract fewer illnesses and recover quicker from surgery than their counterparts who don’t own pets.
Animal owners have a higher one-year heart attack survival rate than their counterparts even with identical fitness level. The study also revealed that pet owners had consistently lower cholesterol, and the amazing fact that by simply caring for a pet, Alzheimer’s disease can be slowed down. Those are pretty awesome health benefits AND you get to have a pet too! That’s a win, win situation for sure.
For the Rest of Us – Multiple Health Benefits that Contribute to a Higher Quality of Life
Pet owners have lowered blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which then lowers the risk of heart diseases. Just by petting an animal, you may be lowering your blood pressure at the same time. At the University at Buffalo, a study was conducted with a group of hypertensive New York City stockbrokers and results showed that having pets can be more calming and more effective at controlling blood pressure than some medications. The rationale is quoted from Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University Of Texas School Of Public Health.
“People in stress mode get into a “state of disease,” in which harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine can negatively affect the immune system. Studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease. Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties.”
So if you’re having a stressful day, find your dog or cat and sit down for a few minutes of therapeutic petting!
Opportunities for exercise and socialization
Credit this to a dog’s need for daily walks. Dog owners indeed spend more time walking as compared to non-pet owners. A 20 minute to 1 hour walk per day is definitely a great form of exercise that is beneficial to reducing stress level and improving overall fitness. It also opens up opportunities for socialization. Dog walkers are regarded as friendly and approachable people. It is easy for people to start a conversation by discussing how adorable the pet is and these small chats, greetings and smiles can make a person’s day better and fulfill the human’s need for socialization.
You can walk your cat too. Now that would make for a great conversation starter! Cats can be taught to walk using a harness or a leash. It may take a little more time and effort, but even your cat can get out on a daily walk.
Lowered stress level, improves mood, and reduced risk of depression
A pet’s tail wagging or purring produces an instantaneous relaxation response that diminishes stress. Research from Karen Allen, Ph.D., of the State University of New York at Buffalo, found that when a stressful task was conducted, people experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a friend or spouse was present. This may be attributed to the fact that pets neither judge nor criticize. Though I’ve seen some pets express their opinions when it comes to their food dish! Still, a pet is a great outlet for talking about your stresses, your dreams, your hopes and your fears. They’ll never tell you that you can’t do something and they make great listeners. When you are able to voice out worries, it greatly reduces anxiety and in turn lowers the risk of depression. Talking it out with your pet is a good thing indeed.
The Essence to Prolonged Life
We now know that there are multiple actual health benefits to owning a pet. It might be true to think of walking the dog everyday is a hassle initially, but as you take some time and enjoy the scenery as you stroll, you potentially get to brush away your worries and retain some quality time for reflection. With a pet, you know that his/her world revolves around you. You see yourself with a sense of purpose and as a dependable person. You know that there is always a perfect listener to your woes, loyal pal as your friend, and someone that sees the greatness in you. You will pick up confidence and augment self-worth; leading much more fulfilling and happier days.
These benefits go beyond dogs and cats, if you own a fish, bird, or any other pet; they will also offer the psychological and physical benefits as stated. It is interesting to note that cat owners were found to report fewer physical and psychological problems, higher self-esteem and feelings of well-being, though cat owners did report more loneliness. Dog owners, in contrast, were discovered to feel less lonely, probably due to the socializing opportunities that dogs offer. We’re pretty sure we just need to campaign for more people to walk their cats!
If you can’t own your own pet, which we know happens sometimes too, spending time with someone else’s pet can also offer health benefits. Volunteer at a local shelter where the dogs and cats there probably need you as much you need them.
Give your pet (or your substitute pet from the shelter!) some extra love today because besides providing you with companionship and love they are also giving you the gift of better health.