Many of us own pets — or maybe they really own us.
Having a dog or a cat, or a bird, turtle, ferret, duck, goldfish or any other animal can bring happiness and improved health.
Research has shown that just petting an animal can lower blood pressure, ease breathing and increase relaxation. Pets as therapy tools have been studied extensively over the past several years. Pets can provide a constant source of companionship, comfort, and a focus of attention. They allow us to nurture and make us feel accepted unconditionally.
We do not have to put on another face; we can always just be ourselves and our pets will love us as we are. Of vital importance, they also can shift a focus away from ourselves and help us feel connected to a larger world. They decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation. Pets can help offset depression, especially in people who are elderly, lonely or sick, through a sense of connection.
Veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have improved physical and mental health when paired with a pet or service animal. Pet therapy in recovery from surgery usually results in less need for pain medication. (My husband had open heart surgery last year, and whether in bed or on the couch, our cat curled into him all day and really did provide comfort, stress relief and relaxation.)
Some pets improve our physical fitness. If you have a dog, it is going to need to go for a walk. A research article published in the Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (May to June 2018) showed that walking dogs promoted increased physical activity on a regular basis in their owners. And this exercise is essentially free, or at least a lot less expensive than a gym membership or Peloton subscription.
Cat ownership appears to confer protection against the risk of death due to heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases, according to a study published in the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology (January 2009). The researchers conclude that getting a cat might be an innovative and unusual strategy to reduce the threat of cardiovascular diseases in high-risk people.
In years past, most people thought early exposures to pets increased the likelihood of developing allergies and asthma, but it has been shown that just the opposite occurs. Children who grow up in homes with pets, such as cats and dogs, actually have less risk of allergies and asthma.
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology published a study led by Dr. James Gern (February 2004). The researchers analyzed blood samples of babies at birth and a year later looking for immunity changes, allergic reactions, and reactions to environmental bacteria. If there were dogs in the homes, the babies were shown to have significantly less evidence of pet allergies or eczema, and they had higher levels of some immune system chemicals, which indicate a stronger immune system.
Teenagers with diabetes were found to be more adherent with their medical regimens when they had pet care responsibilities. A study done at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was published in The Diabetes Educator