How Pets Keep You Happy and Healthy
If you’ve ever loved a pet, you know the joy an animal can add to your life. Now mounting evidence shows that pets can do a whole lot more for your health and well-being than just bring a smile to your face. Studies suggest that animal companionship can do everything from lowering blood pressure and protecting your heart, to improving self-esteem and helping keep you fit.
“The benefits of pet ownership are probably multifaceted," says Allen R. McConnell, Ph.D., of Miami University in Ohio, whose work “Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership” appeared in the July the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. “Our paper shows that people whose pets provided greater social needs fulfillment benefited more from owning pets. That is, those who found that their pet contributed to their sense of belongingness, self-worth, perceptions of control, and meaningful existence fared best.”
Physical Benefits of Pets
“In addition to social needs being fulfilled by one's pet, there's evidence of physical benefits,” says McConnell. These include, “getting more exercise, lower amounts of the stress hormone cortisol, and better circulatory functioning. All of these physical benefits, coupled with the psychological benefits, probably account for much of health improvement pet owners seem to enjoy.”
Lower blood pressure
Karen Allen, PhD, and colleagues at The State University of New York at Buffalo, followed 24 hypersensitive stockbrokers who were due to begin drug therapy for high blood pressure. Half the group was assigned randomly to adopt a dog or cat from an animal shelter, while the other half remained petless.
Results showed that medication successfully lowered resting blood pressure for all study participants, but under stressful conditions, those who had adopted a pet experienced half the increase in blood pressure as those without pets.
Blood pressure is only one aspect of health improved by pet ownership. In a 1995 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology, researchers followed 369 heart attack survivors, and found that dog owners had only a 1% chance of dying within a year, compared with a 7% chance for those without a dog. And don’t rule out the benefit of cats. Recent research found that people who had a cat at some point in their lives were 37% less likely to die of a heart attack than those who didn’t.
Fewer allergies, more fit
Studies suggest children raised with pets are less likely to develop allergies than those raised without. And when it comes to staying fit, a study published in a 2006 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, revealed that dog owners living in urban areas generally walk almost twice as much than their dog-free neighbors.
Clearly, having a pet to love and be loved by does a lot for one’s health and happiness. Hopefully as evidence mounts, some pharmaceutical solutions to certain health conditions may be replaced by the power of the pet prescription.
7 Ways to Keep Your Pet Healthy
Pets can help keep you healthy, but it’s a two-way street. Here are some easy ways to keep your furry friends happy and in good health:
- Proper diet: Explore food options that affect your pet’s health. For example, the label should name quality protein such as lamb or chicken in the top five ingredients. Carbohydrates should be in whole form, and a make up a smaller percentage than the protein and vegetables. You may even want to see if a raw food diet might be right for your cat or dog.
- Supplemental nutrition: Work with your veterinarian to discover nutritional boosts that will help keep your pet healthy—longer. For instance, glucosamine supplements are great for helping keep joints pain-free, and fish oil helps your animal maintain a healthy coat. While no one yet knows for sure why cats eat grass, buying or growing cat grass is a good way to give your indoor cat access to potentially important nutrition or fiber.
- Dental health: Cats and dogs often require dental cleanings at some point in their lives. However, you can often prevent serious decay by brushing your animal’s teeth at home with pet toothpaste. Specially formulated chews may help prevent tooth decay as well.
- Exercise: Make sure you exercise your dog the necessary amount for her needs. If you have an indoor cat or other animal, find toys or perches that encourage exercise and allow for normal physical behaviors such as scratching. Catnip may inspire sluggish felines to get some exercise.
- Emotional needs: It is essential to provide for your pet’s emotional needs by spending enough time with them, following consistent routines and boundaries, and making sure their environment is appropriate to their natural needs. Many animals benefit from having specially designated spots to curl up in and, in the case of cats, hide . . .
- Skin and grooming: Though pets spend a lot of time grooming themselves, it is important for pet owners to wash, comb, and groom animals, and a wide range of combs and shampoos are available. Flea and tick collars and medicines can help keep animals healthy and pest-free.
- Waste management: Dealing with your animal’s waste may be the least fun part of pet ownership, but healthy products can make it easier. Biodegradable poop bags and high-quality kitty litter that minimizes smell and mess can help.