The care for domestic pet is a big responsibility, but also that care can have a major positive influence on our physical and mental health. Here are the top health benefits of keeping pets.
Lowers blood pressure
While some studies have found a stronger connection than others, having a pet has the potential to lower blood pressure, especially in hypertensive or high-risk patients, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “If you have a dog around, your blood pressure is lower,” says Marty Becker, DVM, veterinary consultant for Good Morning America and author of the upcoming book Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual. “A lot of it goes back to reducing stress: You might lose your job, your house, your 401(k)—but you’ll never lose the unconditional love of your pet.”
Prevents Allergies and Improves Immunity
Dr. Becker says pets can dramatically improve immunity and prevent allergies. “A study found that children ages 5 to 7 from pet-owning households attend school three weeks more per year than those who don’t have pets,” he says. He also says that the more pets you have earlier in life, the fewer allergies you will develop. “Kids who grow up on farms and around animals don’t have allergies,” he says. “That dander on that hair, that’s natural immunotherapy.” But he notes that this effect is not reversible: Getting a pet as an adult will not minimize allergies, it only helps prevent certain allergies from developing in children.
In a 2002 study at State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers found that when conducting a stressful task, people experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a spouse, family member or close friend was nearby. Promises Treatment Centers, which specializes in addiction, not only recommends its patients consider getting a pet, but even allows pets in its rehabilitation facilities, according to David Sack, MD, CEO of Promises. “One of Promises’ core beliefs is that we need to remove obstacles that prevent people from getting help,” Dr. Sack says. “We are committed to making Promises a safe and reassuring homelike environment. And what could be more like home than to have your pet accompany you?”
Regardless of whether you just walk the dog or clean the rabbit cage, care for your pet adds additional physical activity per day, thus burning more calories. Taking a dog for a walk, hike, or run are fun and rewarding ways to fit healthy daily exercise into your schedule. Studies have shown that dog owners are far more likely to meet their daily exercise requirements—and exercising every day is great for the animal as well. It will deepen the connection between you, eradicate most behavior problems in dogs, and keep your pet fit and healthy.
Greater health for children
Children who grow up with pets are less sick. The reason for this lies in the belief that animals increase immunity in children. Usually, parents want their children to stay in super clean and super hygienic home. Thinking it could prevent the immune system of the child to develop immunity to standard domestic antibodies such as dust, dirt and animal strand.
Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis, says Dr. Becker. “Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain,” he says. One study from Loyola University found that people who use pet therapy while recovering from surgery may need significantly less pain medication than those who do not.
Although dogs are often touted for their health benefits, cat owners can see gains, too. Felines are just as beneficial to your health as dogs. “If you have a cat, you’re 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack, and you’re 40 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular incident like a stroke,” Dr. Becker says. In addition, pets can aid in the recovery of a heart attack. “If you have a heart attack and you have a dog, you are [significantly more] likely to be alive a year later,” Dr. Becker says.
Companionship can help prevent illness and even add years to your life, while isolation and loneliness can trigger symptoms of depression. Caring for a living animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from your problems, especially if you live alone. Most dog and cat owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work through their troubles. And nothing beats loneliness like coming home to a wagging tail and wet kisses.