Health Benefits of Pet Ownership 

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

Animals have moved from the backyard to the bedroom and most pet owners consider their pets as an integral part of the family.  Research has found there are additional human health benefits to owning a pet, something most pet owners have long suspected.  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.  Asthma and allergies in children has increased in modern times, however several studies have shown that children who grow up with animals in the home are less likely to develop these conditions.  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 have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than co-workers that do not own animals.  High levels of stress lead to increased levels of stress hormones 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. The warm lump of a cat purring on the doona is without doubt the best sleep inducing relaxant known. 

Dogs also encourage exercise; dog owners reportedly walk more often and longer than people of similar age than do non-dog owners. Without a doubt it is our dogs thathealthbenofpets get us out for a morning walk even though it is dark and cold outside. 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 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.  Having a pet often provides people with a reason for enjoying life and connecting with others. This can be especially critical with older adults. Providing for a pet’s needs by going to the vet, buying pet food or taking a dog for a walk helps reduce seniors’ social isolation by encouraging them to get out and about. 

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 have a resident pet or allow animal visitation and find improved interaction between residents and staff members. 
A pet can also help teach children responsibility, compassion and empathy.  Nurturing behaviours 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, boost immune function, decrease risk of allergies, asthma, heart attacks and can teach us many things. 

Dr Alison Banfield- Sanford Veterinary Clinic

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