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Having a Pet is Good for Your Health

February 1, 2017

Pets can boost both our physical and mental health and in some cases, even help us live longer. Many people own pets for the unconditional love and companionship, which directly increases health and wellness, but there are many other ways pets help their owners stay healthy.

Emotionally, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety and boost feelings of well-being. Physically, pets can lower blood pressure, improve immunity, ease Alzheimer’s outbursts, and even decrease risk of heart attack and stroke.

Top 5 Healthy Reasons to Own a Pet

Owning a pet can make us feel better, both emotionally and physically. Here are five wonderful health benefits derived from the bond between humans and their four-legged friends: 

  • 27979316 - senior man with dog and cat on his lap in gardenSense of wellbeing – the attachment we feel for our pets can be as strong as those with other human beings. “We do best medically and emotionally when we feel securely attached to another, because we’re mammals and that’s the way we’ve evolved,” Dr. Fricchione stated on the Harvard Medical School website. Dr. Fricchione points out that we particularly feel securely attached with dogs and cats because of the unconditional love they provide. In fact, scientists at the Claremont Graduate University in California found that interacting with pets releases the “love hormone” oxytocin, which is the same chemical used to create close bonds between humans, as reported in The Atlantic. You’re also less likely to suffer from clinical depression if you own a pet because stroking a pet is calming and soothing which can improve your mood, lower blood pressure and relieve stress, according to the website, Dogs for Depression. The companionship of a pet also alleviates loneliness and improves self-esteem
  • Reduce stress – the emotional benefits of having a pet can help reduce stress. “When you feel securely attached to this living being, there are biological brain effects that reduce stress response, so it may affect your breathing rate or blood pressure or oxygen consumption or anxiety level,” says Dr. Fricchione. Owning a pet has been found to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, creating a calmer attitude and lowering our blood pressure.
  • Heart healthAnimal Planet reports that studies from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) showed that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels which can help minimize their risk for heart disease. Several studies have also shown that heart attack patients tend to have better recovery rates if they own a dog or a cat. These benefits are thought to be related to pets’ ability in reducing their owners’ overall stress levels and increasing their owners’ level of exercise, especially when walking a dog.
  • Prevents strokes – cat owners have been found to be less likely to suffer from a stroke. In fact, scientists have found that owning a cat can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by more than a third, as reported in The Telegraph. Researchers stated that having a cat helped to relieve stress and anxiety, which is known to help protect against a stroke by lowering blood pressure and reducing the heart rate.
  • Aid for the elderly – in a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, interacting and walking with a dog gave seniors a boost in parasympathetic nervous system activity, which can help calm and rest the body. The study concluded that “walking a dog has potentially greater health benefits as a buffer against stress in senior citizens than walking without a dog; and merely patting and talking to a dog also raises parasympathetic neural activity.” Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer outbursts of anxiety if there is an animal in the home, and their caregivers feel less burdened if there is a pet, especially a cat which requires less care than a dog, according to Webmd. Many nursing homes and hospitals take advantage of this health benefit for seniors and Alzheimer patients by bringing therapy dogs into their facilities to visit with patients.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, provides these links for more information about the health benefits of pets:

  • Human Animal Bond Resource Center: Pet Partners provides abstracts, articles, and bibliographies on the health benefits of animals to people.
  • Can Pets Keep you Healthy?: NIH News in Health explores the health benefits of pets.
  • HABRI: Human Animal Bond Initiative.

Photo credit: budabar/123RF.com

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