Everyone knows that pet ownership is generally pretty fun (notable exceptions being when you have to walk the dog in the pouring rain or when the cat brings you a “gift” of a backyard rodent). But in addition to being fun, pets can also help you improve your health, and maybe the health of your loved ones, too. In some cases, pets can even save your life, but in most cases, pets tend to help you improve your overall health in many ways:
• Better immunity. Studies have shown that if you have a child, and that child grows up in a home with furry animals, they’ll have a lower risk of allergies, eczema and asthma.
• Lower levels. The CDC reports that pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels.
• Decreased stress. Recent research indicates that when people are trying to do stressful tasks, they experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when loved ones (even their spouses) were present. This may be due to pets’ unconditional love and that they are non-judgmental.
• More frequent exercise. Walking the dog? Exercise. Chasing the cat when it unexpectedly sprints out the front door? Also exercise. Playing with your pet? Yep, you guessed it—that’s exercise, too. Pets increase your opportunities for exercise…and better yet, since spending time with your pet is fun, this type of exercise doesn’t feel like a chore. And, of course, more exercise can lead to fewer extra pounds and better overall health.
• More brain exercise, too. Having a pet increases your mental acuity. You have to remember to walk the dog or change out the cat’s litter box and give the pet fresh food and water every day, as well as remember to take your pet to the vet for checkups and any necessary shots.
• Social support. If you’re out walking your dog, not only do you get the health benefits of walking, but you’re also more likely to be approached to stop and chat. This gives you the opportunity to increase your social network by making new friends and, therefore, also increase your happiness.
• Greater comfort. Many people—from autistic children to the elderly to soldiers suffering from PTSD—have relied on pet therapy for comfort, reduction of anxiety, and even reduction of symptoms relating to trauma. Some healthcare and assisted living facilities bring therapy animals on-site to help patients, and sometimes, patients go to the animals (for instance, visiting a farm or stable with therapy animals). Dogs aren’t the only types of animals used in pet therapy—cats, horses, and even dolphins are among the creatures that have helped people feel better, physically and/or emotionally.
• Help and service. Often, dogs can be a great asset to people who are blind or visually disabled and who need help getting around. As long as the person knows how to get to where they need to go, a guide dog can help get them there safely. Golden Retrievers, Labradors, and German Shepherds are popular choices for guide dogs. Dogs can also help disabled people in their homes—dogs can help turn off lights, bring things to people, and more.
• Coping with Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s patients tend to have fewer emotional outbursts if they have an animal living in their home. It helps caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, too—studies show that caregivers tend to feel less burdened when a pet is present in the patient’s home (particularly a cat, since cats are usually low-maintenance).
• Boosting your mood. If you’re an animal lover, how can you stay in a bad mood when you have a purring kitty in your lap, or a happy dog who wants to play fetch? Plus, caring for your pet can give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment.
Although pet ownership is not for everyone—due to allergies, time constraints, or other such issues—those who are able to have a pet may be able to reap more benefits than just having a cute critter to cuddle with or dress up in silly costumes during the holidays. Pets have the potential to make you and your household happier and healthier.
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