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Vet Talk: Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

Vet Talk: Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

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In today’s society there is no doubt that the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. 

Approximately 2/3 of people surveyed on pet ownership claim to own a pet and about 60% of those who own pets say their pet is strictly indoors and sleeps in their bedroom.  Animals have moved from the backyard to the bedroom and most pet owners consider their companion animal as part of the family.  So it comes as no surprise that research has found there are additional human health benefits to owning a pet.  Animals have been shown to improve health in several ways and can have social and psychological benefits as well.

Pets have been shown to boost immunity and decrease the risk of allergies or asthma.  Several studies have shown that children who grow up with animals either in the home or exposed to them on a farm are less likely to develop allergies or asthma.  These children are also shown to have overall stronger immunity as compared to children who are not exposed to pets.  Other studies have shown that animal owners who have stressful jobs (example: stockbrokers) have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than coworkers that do not own animals.  High levels of stress lead to increased levels of cortisol and norepinephrine that can alter a person’s immune system and predispose them to heart disease.  But animal owners tend to have higher levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine that have a pleasurable, calming or relaxing effect and lead to decreased blood pressures and heart rates.  Dogs also encourage exercise; dog owners reportedly walk more often and longer than people of similar age than do non-dog owners.  It is also reported that heart attack patients have better recovery rates if they own a dog or cat.

Pets also help in the social arena.  Pets are good communication starters and ice breakers.  Dogs can help on the dating scene to ease someone out of shyness and open communication barriers.  They are natural conversation pieces because people are interested in the breed, any tricks, special talents, etc.  Animals are being used more and more in therapeutic settings to decrease stress, boost self-esteem and aid handicapped individuals.  Dentist offices and doctors’ offices have been placing fish tanks in waiting rooms to help ease patient anxiety.  Horses are often used in therapy settings for children with disabilities to boost self confidence and encourage therapy.  Many nursing homes allow animal visitation and find improved interaction between residents and staff members.  They also find that animal presence gets residents involved and help them to relate about their own experiences with animals.  Dogs can be trained to aid people with hearing deficits or alert elderly to phone calls, door bells, or fire alarms and to assist individuals in wheel chairs. 

A pet can also help teach children responsibility, compassion and empathy.  Nurturing behaviors can also be fostered by caring for pets.  Many children confide in their pets and consider them a trusted friend.  Pets encourage laughter, provide a focus of attention and constant source of affection.  They can alleviate depression, booster immune function, decrease risk of allergies, asthma, heart attacks and can teach us many things.

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