Are they good for your health?
After a long and stressful day at work, all you want to do is go home and relax. The minute you walk in the door, you are greeted by your dog. She is so happy to see you that her body is shaking with excitement. You set down your belongings and start to pet her. After a few minutes, you notice that you don’t feel as stressed as did before. Why is this the case? How does having a pet affect your health?
Did you know that most United States households have at least one pet? This isn’t surprising when you consider that the bond between people and their pets can lower stress levels, bring happiness and increase fitness. People who have pets are usually more fit and healthier than those without one. Keep in mind that just having a pet isn’t going to improve your health. You actually need to spend quality time with your pet. The type of animal doesn’t really matter since it’s the act of caring for another living creature that provides the benefit. Some of the major health benefits of having a pet include decreased blood pressure, cholesterol/triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness while increasing opportunities for exercise, outdoor activities and socialization. Pets can help calm stress, fear and anxiety in everyone, but especially young children and the elderly. While we know this is a fact, more research is needed to know exactly why it works and how much animal interaction is required to get the best results. Most people who have a pet view them as another family member. One indication of this is when asked about quitting smoking, almost 30% of pet owners who are smokers said they’d try to quit if they were convinced that secondhand smoke could hurt their pets; whereas, less than 2% said they would quit if they thought secondhand smoke would hurt their children.
When you’re stressed, hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine, get released in your bodies. If you are stressed frequently, these can negatively affect your immune system. Also, there is a significant link between them and plaque buildup in your arteries. Also, they can cause your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate to be elevated, which if they are for extended periods of time, you are at risk for numerous health problems. One of the biggest benefits of having a pet is the reduction of stress you experience. The best way to do get this benefit is by just petting your animal. The process of stroking them helps you to focus on something and someone else. Petting your animal feels good because it causes the release of relaxation hormones, such as serotonin and dopamine, throughout your body resulting in a reduction of stress hormones. This release of relaxation hormones results in your blood pressure lowering, heart rate slowing, breathing becoming more regular and reducing muscle tension. All of these are signs of decreased stress. The good news is that these positive psychological effects occur after only a few minutes of interacting with an animal, which is far faster than most medications that are used to treat stress can work in. When your body is in a more relaxed state, you are at a much lower risk for any of the various health concerns that too much stress can cause. Also, petting your animal is soothing and relaxing for them, so it’s an extremely valuable way to build your relationship with your pet.
Not only can the daily grind cause stress, it can wear you down causing you to struggle to find the enjoyment in life. Pets won’t let that happen because they want attention and to have fun. They want to play with you and will pester you until you do because when they want to play, they really want to play. While this might be annoying, they are actually very good at reading your body language, so if you truly need to left alone to get work done, then they will usually leave you alone. Another great thing about pets is that they have their own personalities. They find things that they love to do and learn tricks that they enjoy. All of this adds up to an immediate source of entertainment for you. When you have a pet, you have someone to distract you from the everyday, monotonous stuff. They help you to stay focused on the present because if you’re focusing on them and what do they need right now, then your mind is kept off any negative things you might be experiencing. Often when we are sitting in front of TV, we feel that we are being unproductive, therefore, we want our hands to be doing something, which leads us to snacking. By having an animal that you can pet instead, you’ll be less likely to go to raid the kitchen.
People with pets are usually happier, more trusting and less lonely because pets give you a sense of belonging and meaning. One of the best things about having a pet is that they love unconditionally. When you’re upset and want share how you’re feeling without judgment, you can talk to your pet and they’ll sit quietly while intently listen to you. Your pet can recognize your voice and understand far more than we tend to give them credit for. They might not understand what you’re saying but they can understand that you’re not happy and they want to make you feel better. The good news is when you’re done getting your emotions out, your pet will be there to cuddle with you. For people who experience depression, it can be disabling, both socially and physically. It can even be more disabling than many chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, arthritis and back pain. While it can be caused by many factors, the most common one is loneliness. A pet can help to eliminate these feelings. If you don’t have adequate human social support, having a pet can help form the emotional bonds that you, and all humans, need. Interestingly, people with pets tend to have better support systems and are less likely to suffer from mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, in the first place. This is probably due to the fact that having a pet is a natural conversation starter, which helps to connect to other people and improve your socializing skills. All of these lead to you feeling less isolated.
The idea that exposing children to pets will increase their risk of developing allergies is being proven false. Instead, studies are finding that by exposing children’s immune systems to pets, it views the allergens as normal, so it doesn’t create the antibodies to fight against them. The key is to start early, ideally before a baby is 6 months old. Babies raised in families that have pets are less likely to not only get allergies, but are also less likely to develop asthma, hay fever, eczema and other common ailments. In addition, they tend to have fewer ear infections and colds during their first year. Besides the health benefits, children experience developmental benefits as well. Children with pets quickly learn how to care for others and have a sense of responsibility from a younger age than those who don’t. If children are shy, a pet can help them to open up to other people, this is especially true for children on the autism spectrum. Studies have found that by having animals in a classroom, it changes the environment and helps to integrate those who are a less typically developing. This is because once children interacted with the animals together, they viewed each other more positively and were able to work together better. Also, several studies have found when children who struggle with reading, read aloud to a trained dog and handler, they show fewer anxiety symptoms.
Most parents tend to find the meaning in life through their children because they of the child’s need for constant support and advice. Pet owners actually get more benefits than parents because children eventually grow up and leave the house; whereas, pets are always there until the end of their life. Most pets understand boundaries and build instincts around the people and other animals they meet quickly. Pet owners get a good idea of who to trust and when to build networks based on their pets’ instincts. This leads to pet owners being more trusting than non-pet owners. Also, pet owners tend to feel like they have more control because there is someone who is always reliant on them.
Another big factor in today’s society is the weakening of extended family ties, which places older individuals at risk of becoming lonely, isolated and depressed. This is why if an elderly person is able to care for a pet, it can provide them with exercise and companionship. Several studies have found that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in their home. Animals can help to focus elderly individuals’ attention making them less lethargic. A good example of this is a study that looked at Alzheimer’s individuals dining in front of aquariums that had brightly colored fish. It was found that they ate more, got better nutrition and were less prone to pacing.
Pets just want to be loved just like the way they love you…unconditionally. The key is being ready for the challenge of taking care of and always being there for them. Remember, the cost of getting a pet is nothing compared to the cost of taking good care of it throughout its life. Taking your pet to its veterinarian regularly so it stays in good health is just part of this process. This will help protect them against diseases and illnesses. Unfortunately, pets sometimes carry harmful germs that can make you sick, these are called zoonotic diseases. It’s essential to learn about diseases different types of animals can spread, especially before you buy one, in order to not only be aware, but know what you need to do to prevent you and your human loved ones from getting sick. Some of these diseases include ringworm, MRSA and plague. Obviously, some of these are more common than others. However, individuals with compromised immune systems or pregnant women are at increased risk. Toxoplasmosis is one of these diseases that can cause birth defects or lead to miscarriages in pregnant women. It’s a parasitic disease that can be transmitted through the feces of infected cats. Cats are infected if they hunt and eat rodents or if their owners feed them raw meat. Also, an infected cat can only transmit the disease for a two-week time period in its entire life. So, it’s very rare to get from your cats—you are much more likely to get it if you eat undercooked meats. If you get scratched or bitten by a cat, you could get cat scratch disease, but only if the cat has fleas since it is caused by flea feces. The development of most of the diseases can significantly be reduce by washing your hands thoroughly after petting or playing with your pet. Another possible concern is being bitten by your animal. It’s estimated that about 4.5 million Americans are bitten by a dog each year with 1 in 5 requiring medical attention. Unfortunately, children between the ages of 5 to 9 are most likely to be bitten.
By taking proper care of your pet, they will live a long and healthy life. This will help you greatly because of physical and mental health benefits you’ll gain. Just be sure that you are ready for the commitment it takes to have a pet by researching the typical life expectancy and how much hands-on care does the animal you want need before you buy one. Just remember the saying, “They might only be a part of your life, but to them you are their whole life.” Be sure to go hug your pet today!