When you come home to your happy pet friends, the feeling of stress melting away isn’t just your imagination. Research has suggested for years that our pet friends truly are good for our physical and mental health. There is a proven bond and deep sense of unconditional love and companionship that makes a big difference in mental health; not to mention the extra exercise you get from walks and playtime, even for inactive seniors and those with mobility issues.
Pets may lower your cholesterol
If you have a dog, those daily walks are helping to keep your cholesterol in check. A survey by the Australian National Heart Foundation revealed that people who own pets, especially men, tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Pets help relieve stress
Simply being in the same room as your pet can have a calming effect. A powerful neurochemical, oxytocin, is released when we interact with our companion pets, even loved farm animals; and this can bring feelings of joy and friendship. It’s also accompanied by a decrease in cortisol, a stress hormone. Research with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder has shown the powerful effects of animals.
Pets may reduce your blood pressure
It’s a win-win: Years ago, the Delta Society published a study proving that petting your pooch or kitty brings down blood pressure – and it probably does the same for the pets. Researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo discovered that in people already taking medication for hypertension, their blood pressure response to stress was cut by half if they owned a cat or dog.
Pets boost your fitness
A dog is the best companion for a stroll – even better than a friend. A study at the University of Missouri that found that dog walkers improved their fitness more than people who walked with other people. A separate study found that dog owners walked 300 minutes a week on average, while people who didn’t own dogs walked just 168 minutes a week. And a study in the “Journal of Physical Activity & Health” found that not only did dog owners walk more than non-owners, they were also 54 percent more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity.
Pets reduce your cardiovascular disease risk
The theory now supported by the American Heart Association states that lower cholesterol, stress and blood pressure levels combined with increased fitness may add up to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In 2013, the AHA reviewed numerous studies examining the effects of pet ownership on cardiovascular disease risk, and concluded that having a dog is associated with a reduction in risk and increased survival among patients.
Studies suggest that pets may prevent allergies in children
If you had a pet as a kid, you may be in luck. In a study published in “Clinical & Experimental Allergy,” children who were exposed to pets before they were 6 months old were less likely to develop allergic diseases, hay fever and eczema as they got older. In the first year of life, babies who are exposed to dogs in the household are more likely not to have allergies or asthma. They also experience fewer upper respiratory infections. Kids who grow up around farm animals and even dogs or cats typically have stronger immune systems and a reduced risk of developing asthma or eczema.
Pets relieve depression
And now the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” states that pets can provide social support for their owners, who tend to have better overall well-being than non-pet owners. A large review of studies by the British Psychological Society found that dogs especially promote therapeutic and psychological well-being, particularly lowering stress levels and boosting self-esteem – probably because cats are so darn independent. The calming presence and the social bond that pets bring can be very powerful. Animals give something to focus on instead of the negative thoughts in a stressful world. Many with depression have no other external outlet for negative thoughts and even suicidal ideation. When a pet pays attention to you, they’re giving you unconditional love and acceptance – sometimes rare with humans.
Dr. Jim Humphries is a house call veterinarian in the Falcon area. His passions are dentistry, pain management and home hospice. He also serves as a visiting professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University and lectures nationally. He lives in Falcon with his wife, horses and Great Danes. www.MobilePetDocs.com