Society

7 health benefits of living with pets

Apart from being the cuddliest members of our family, pets are all kinds of good for us.

Credit: goodnet

Credit: goodnet

Pets not only make our lives richer, they also help us to live longer. As much as we take care of them, they find ways to take care of us, too. Studies confirm that our animal companions help us in many ways, from boosting immunity to reducing stress. They can even sniff out illnesses using just their sense of smell. So whether you consider yourself a dog-person or cat-person, or maybe you love horses, having a furry friend around can have huge health benefits.

1. Pets reduce stress and anxiety

Feeling stressed? Your doctor may prescribe adopting a pet. In fact, Promises Treatment Centers, specializing in addiction, not only suggests getting a pet to reduce stress but actually, allows pets inside their rehabilitation centers. That’s because bonding with pets triggers higher levels of the stress-reducing hormone, oxytocin, while also decreasing the production of the stress-inducing hormone, cortisol. Interacting with animals has an especially big impact during child development, and children with pets experience less stress, separation anxiety, and social anxiety, reducing the likelihood of developing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders during adulthood.

2. Pets can sniff out medical conditions

If you notice your dog or cat acting funny with no explanation, you may want to take a trip to the doctor. Animals with a heightened sense of smell can detect tiny changes in the human body. Dogs and cats, sensing an issue, alert their owners by changing behaviors, leading to earlier detection of illnesses like cancer, narcolepsy, migraines, diabetes, and seizures. Dogs especially have the ability to detect illness with a high level of accuracy, sensing breast cancer with 88 percent accuracy and lung cancer with 99 percent accuracy.

3. Animals provide affection and comfort

Hospitals, nursing homes, schools, hospices, and veterans turn to therapy animals to provide comfort, cheer, and companionship. The Paws for Purple Hearts program helps heal veterans suffering from mobility and post-traumatic stress disorder by teaching them to train Labrador and golden retriever service dogs. The dogs help soothe stress, but also draw out isolated personalities and treat the emotional numbness of the traumatized veterans.

Credit: goodnet

Credit: goodnet

4. Animals help reduce blood pressure and promote heart health

Cardiologists praise dogs as a way to lower blood pressure and improve heart health. In a study observing people with borderline high blood pressure, those who adopted dogs experience declines in blood pressure levels. Research has shown similar results for cat owners as well.

5. Having a pet helps us stay more active and get outside

Sometimes finding the time to walk the dog or clean the litter box can seem difficult to fit into a busy schedule. Still, it has to get done, and those who have pets benefit from more exercise than the average person. Dog-owners especially feel more motivated to go for walks out of responsibility and will likely spend more time outside playing catch or frisbee. In fact, dog owners are 54 percent more likely to get recommended levels of exercise. Even those with cats can reap the rewards. You may not take the cat out for walks, but you’ll get moving by playing with the cat, picking up toys, or cleaning up.

6. Animals reduce the risk of illness

Having a dog or a cat can decrease the risk of developing illnesses like cancer, allergies, or heart disease. Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, and Stanford University found that pets boost the immune system, protecting against certain forms of cancer by as much as a third. Our pets can also help to prevent allergies. Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for Good Morning America explains, “Kids who grow up on farms and around animals don't have allergies. That dander on that hair, that's natural immunotherapy."

7. Pets help us socialize and meet new people

Whether sitting at the dog park or chatting with the shop owner about the best brand of cat food, pets give us a way to break the ice and find a common ground for conversation. Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, considers pets especially helpful in easing people out of social isolation and shyness. According to Kaslow, “People ask about breed, they watch the dog's tricks. Sometimes the conversation stays at the 'dog level,' sometimes it becomes a real social interchange." Who knows? You could even land a date running into a fellow dog owner on your next walk through the park.

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