Furry Prescription: Health Benefits of Pets

Pets help children learn empathy and serve as a social bridge between peers.

Anyone who has ever lived with a cat or dog knows they increase our happiness quotient. But did you know that they actually improve our health? Multiple studies have proven what pet lovers intuitively have known forever. Pets are good for what ails ye!

That may be particularly important during these stressful times. We’re obsessing over the economy, cost of gas, health care, natural disasters and more. We need all the stress-busting help we can find. In fact, health insurance companies should give pet owners a cost break on premiums. Studies show that people with pets get sick less often, and recover more quickly than those without animal friends. Infants and children who grow up with furry companions are less likely to develop allergies as they mature. 

And those unfortunate individuals who have suffered a heart attack—and own pets—will recover more quickly and survive longer than heart attack survivors without pets. There actually are a few enlightened physicians who prescribe a pet for their heart attack patients.

People with a dog or cat experience only half as much blood pressure increase when stressed, as those without a pet. Half! Could you benefit from that kind of stress relief? The research shows that your pet doesn’t even have to be present for this “pet effect” to work. It’s simply enough to know he’s waiting at home. Petting and stroking any friendly dog or cat also lowers blood pressure, so if you’re pet-less, you could volunteer at the shelter or get your fur-fix at a neighbor’s home. Petting is especially effective, though, when it’s your own animals.

In some instances, pets even lower blood presser more effectively than medication. That’s because the act of speaking dramatically increases blood pressure, and drugs don’t block this effect. The only thing that counters elevated blood pressure that results from talking is focusing on something outside yourself–like a pet. Simply sitting quietly with your dog or cat each day can soothe your soul.

Part of the pet effect has to do with increased exercise. I know that my exercise has increased since Magic came to live with us. He demands a game of fetch outside several times each day, and that gets me up and moving. But even Seren has me exercising more–after all, trips to the store to tote cat litter and food home requires me to leave the house.

Our best intentions to sign up for a class at the gym may come to naught. But dogs won’t take “no” for an answer. And cats won’t let you sleep late, if the food bowl is empty. Exercise relieves anxiety, boredom, and depression. While others may look askance at goofy-acting humans, it’s “legal” to play and have fun with your pets–which is as good for our own mental health as it is for the cats and dogs. Set aside time every day to play like a cat or dog–and you’ll feel better for it.

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Pets keep us connected socially, too. Walking the dog or talking “cats” at the pet food aisle at the grocery encourages contact that keeps us interested in life and other people.

Just to show that I’m not making this stuff up, here’s a “hard science” example. Positron emission tomography (PET scan) is an imaging test that helps physicians to detect biochemical changes used to diagnose and monitor various health conditions. These tests show that touching a pet shuts down the pain-processing centers of the brain. Petting your dog or cat relieves your own pain and also buffers anxiety, all without the side effects of Valium. In other words, a cat or dog on your lap can ease the pain in your ass-ets.

People talk about “the bond” all the time when referring to the pets we love. It’s nothing magical, although it may seem so at times. But science can actually measure this pet effect as well. In fact, our thought and attitudes are influenced by changes in brain chemicals. These chemicals prompt feelings of elation, safety, tranquility, happiness, satisfaction, even love. Blood tests that measure these chemicals reveal that the levels increase for people–AND for the pets!–when bonding takes place. There’s a reciprocal benefit to bonding with your fur-kid.

Don’t discount the pet effect in your life. How do YOUR pets help you? Does the dog get you up-and-at-’em in the morning? I’ve lost weight since the Magical-Dawg arrived, chasing after him and walking the 13+ acres of our place. The Seren-kitty always seemes to know when I have a headache and helps purr it away. A furry prescription costs only a handful of kibbles. There’s no insurance premium to pay, and everyone qualifies for the benefits. And that’s a wagging, purring blessing for everyone.


Comments

Furry Prescription: Health Benefits of Pets — 7 Comments

  1. Great post Amy! It’s so true that pets improve quality of life immeasurably. Love the new look of your blog 🙂

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