Smiling older woman hugging her black dog

Pets and Health: Benefits of Pet Ownership

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated on July 1, 2013, so the post has been reproduced here.

RESEARCH SHOWS PETS PROVIDE HEALTH BENEFITS TO PET AND OWNER

If you’ve tried meditation but had trouble getting into the zone, I feel your distraction. I can’t sit still, block all my random thoughts and focus on my breathing either. But put a purring cat in my lap while I stroke its fur and I’m in nirvana.

This is all the evidence I need that there is a connection between pets and health.

Don’t like cats? Allergic to fur? Sit in front of a fish tank and see if you don’t get mesmerized.

People and Pets, The Perfect Partnership

Human beings have cohabitated with animals for over 12,000 years. Our earliest motivation for domesticating wolves was to make them part of our hunting parties to help track other animals, but they ended up doing much more for us. Ancestors of today’s dogs were soon valued as a source of warmth, companionship and protection.

Pet ownership has been big business ever since.

Now the American Heart Association says pets, especially dogs, may be associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.

The Scientific Statement published in the journal Circulation made it very clear that buying or adopting a dog would not undo the damage caused by smoking, eating poorly and not exercising. It might even add to your stress if you can’t take care of the animal properly. But if you make needed lifestyle changes to lower your risk for heart disease and have a pet, you could benefit more than someone who lives without fur balls under the bed.

A majority of Americans have apparently figured that out on their own. Even though pets require a lot of time, money and effort, they are found in 62% of U.S. households according to the 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey. Dogs are in more households than cats, but cats outnumber dogs since people tend to have more than one.

Pet and Owner, Healthy Together

While the research reported by the American Heart Association looked primarily at decreased risk for heart disease, there are other benefits of pet ownership. Here’s my informal list that is not necessarily supported by scientific studies, but has the endorsement of pets and owners alike.

Structure Your Day – If you are responsible for feeding a pet, providing water and cleaning up after it, you tend to get up on schedule, get home from work on time and go to bed at the same time each day.

Stay Physically Active – Even if you don’t have to walk a dog, you may have to scoop the poop from the yard, birdcage, or hamster habitat; vacuum fur, sweep kitty litter, and pick up toys from all corners of the house.

Source of Companionship – No matter the species, your pet is someone to “talk” to so you never feel alone.

Offer Emotional Support – Being needed by our pets increases our sense of self-worth and their loyalty improves our self-esteem.

Increase Socialization – People who don’t talk to strangers do talk to a stranger’s pet, whether in the veterinarian’s waiting room, pet supply store or walking through the park with a ferret on your shoulder.

Enhance Therapy – Dogs not only serve as eyes for the blind, they assist those with Alzheimer’s and autism and can be trained to detect a drop in blood sugar, some types of cancer and oncoming seizures.

Provide a Play Mate – If you’ve ever purchased a toy for a pet, you know it takes two to have fun! Teasing a cat with a feather on a string, tossing a Frisbee to the dog or trying to get the bird to ring bells in a certain order is entertainment for both of you.

Posted in Aging, Chronic Diseases, Fitness, HEALTH GOES STRONG, Healthy Lifestyle, Stress, Weight Control and tagged , , , , , , , .

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