5 Life-Saving Reasons to Own a Pet
Over 60 percent of American households include a pet, many including more than one. What is it about a furry face that makes us want to take on the years of financial and emotional responsibility of pet ownership?
Well, for nearly 25 years research all over the world has shown that living with pets provides numerous health benefits in addition to the emotional support they can provide. From lowering blood pressure to lessening anxiety, from boosting immunity to helping attract a mate, pets certainly can be “friends with benefits.”
1. Pets May Help Lower Blood Pressure:
Stress triggers release of harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine by the body, which can negatively affect the immune system. Numerous studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries – THE red flag for heart disease in humans.
The calming nature of pets, combined with the companionship that they offer, can cause release of serotonin and dopamine – nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties – which are natural stress relievers and can lead to reduction in blood pressure over time.
In a study conducted by the University of Buffalo, 48 New York stockbrokers were analyzed in stressful situations. The brokers who were pet owners actually had lower blood pressure in times of intense stress, as compared to those without pets.
2. Pets Can Reduce Allergies:
A growing number of studies suggest that children who grow up in homes with “furred animals” – cats, dogs, or those on a farm exposed to large animals – actually have a lower risk of allergies and asthma than children who are not exposed on a regular basis to animals. This is in stark contrast to more outdated schools of thought, which generally recommended avoidance of pets in families that were allergy-prone.
In a recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology by James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, infants that lived in a home with a dog were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies – 19 percent vs. 33 percent. They were also less likely to have eczema, and had higher levels of some beneficial immune chemicals.
Gern says “Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system.”
3. Pets Make Great Social Stimulants:
Dogs can naturally and easily help people overcome social isolation or shyness because they are natural conversation starters. We all do it. We walk up to a cute dog on the street, start petting him and talking to him, and before long we’re in a conversation with his owner. People want to know about the pet: what breed he is; what his personality traits are; how old he is.Passersby may also feel inclined to share stories about their pets. In fact, I’ve heard of real, true friendships —and even love matches—evolving out of simple conversations about pets.
Pet ownership has also been shown to lead to greater community involvement, higher social interactivity, and even higher fitness levels.
4. Pets Comfort the Aging and the Ill
In older people, and those with chronic disease, pets have been shown to have dramatic benefits to the body and the mind of their human counterparts. For example, AIDS patients that are pet owners show significantly lower levels of depression, while Alzheimer’s patients have fewer outbursts if there are animals in the home. Caregivers also report feeling less burdened when there are pets involved.
5. Pets Contribute to Overall Well-Being:
When a dog needs a walk, chances are the pet owner will be right behind him, getting a little exercise of her own. As naturally active animals, dogs can significantly increase the amount of activity pet owners participate in on a consistent basis. Dog ownership proved to decrease a child’s probability of becoming obese by as much as 50 percent.
Heart attack patients who have pets have been shown to survive longer than those without, according to several studies. And children who have dogs as part of the family, and care for them on a regular basis, have even been shown to have higher levels of self-esteem and empathy.
Walking a dog, or just caring for a pet, can provide exercise, companionship and social interaction for those who otherwise may spend considerably more hours home bound than others.
There’s no doubt that the health effects pets have on humans can improve your physical, mental and social wellbeing. Pet ownership is indeed a big responsibility that takes hard work, dedication and compassion. But if you’re willing to put in the time, pet ownership can certainly be one of the most rewarding aspects of your life.
Dr. Katy Nelson is the mother of five – two human and three animal – kids, an avid nutrition and fitness enthusiast, and an admittedly rabid Louisiana sports fan. She is an associate veterinarian at the Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, VA., as well as the host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s News Channel 8. A Certified Veterinary Journalist (CVJ) accredited by the American Society of Veterinary Journalists (ASVJ), Dr. Katy is the Animal Health Reporter for ABC7 News, and serves as “Dr. Pawz” on WTOP Radio. Dr. Katy is also a founding partner of PetsMove.org, a national health and fitness initiative aimed at getting people healthy alongside their dogs, and serves as a media and marketing consultant for numerous pet-related companies and media outlets.