Of all of the things that you do every day to take care of your health, how many of them can you say you truly love? Exercise can be invigorating and even enjoyable; however few people would actually say they love it. Preparing and eating nourishing foods is a satisfying experience, but then again, can you really claim to love it? Taking care of your emotional health, taking your vitamins, seeing your medical care provider on a regular basis, and making clean choices when it comes to the products you use are all aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Did you know that one of the most effective ways to safeguard your health involves something more meaningful, something that fills your heart full of unconditional love? I’m talking about pet ownership and the relationship that you have with your faithful animal companions. It turns out that owning a pet comes with a variety of proven benefits that include increasing the quality of both your physical and mental health.
You are likely familiar with the concept of therapy animals. These animals are trained to attend to the needs of people with specific conditions. In some cases, therapy animals also serve as service animals that assist and guide people with disabilities through many of their daily activities. There are also therapy animals that offer comfort to people of all ages with emotional or mental issues, or those who are going through a period of stress or trauma. We have seen, without question, the wonderful advantages that animal companionship can bring into these people’s lives.
We are a culture that loves animals, and it is estimated that in nearly half of all households in America there resides a domesticated pet that is loved and cherished by its family. Even though we often think of our pets as affectionately as we do the people in our lives, what we tend to lose sight of is just how important it is to have these animals in our lives, not just for the emotional satisfaction they provide, but also for our physical well being.
If you are lucky enough to have a pet that in your home that you love and connect to, take a minute today and thank them for the many ways that they enhance your life. Here are just a few of the ways that pet ownership can benefit your physical health and mental well being.
Physical Health Benefits:
- You and your children are less likely to suffer from allergies. Allergies are no joke, and if you have ever suffered from a serious allergic reaction, you might be thinking that this statement sounds ridiculous. Our knowledge of allergies says that an allergic reaction rarely develops, at least severely, on the first exposure to an allergen. It takes multiple exposures to build up the histamines which produce the allergic response. This is why you might be allergic to your fifth bee sting when you never had a problem before, or you suddenly develop an allergy to your favorite body wash that you have been using for years. Interestingly enough, studies have found that children that come from homes where a furry creature resides actually have stronger immune systems and a lesser occurrence of allergic reactions. One particular study looked at blood samples of newborn babies that had a family pet in the home, and then looked at samples from the same children one year later. The children in the group showed significantly reduced rates of allergies and asthma when compared to their peers that did not have pets in the home, and they were also shown to have stronger immune systems.
- Your ticker will keep ticking longer and stronger. Studies conducted by the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health indicate that pet ownership is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. There is some research that shows that having a pet can help reduce your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which in turn will reduce your risk of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. It also turns out that pet owners who have suffered from heart attacks recover more fully and speedier than those who do not have an animal friend in their lives. There are different theories on why this is the case. It could be that people who interact with animals regularly are less stressed and therefore are generally in better health and heal faster, or it could be that pet owners tend to be more physically active. Regardless of the reason, protecting your heart health is one great reason to thank your favorite animal companion.
- Pet owners get moving. There is no question that if you have a dog in your home, that he or she is going to want to go for walks, and is likely to encourage you to join them. Pet owners are shown to get more regular exercise than non pet owners. This certainly makes sense for dog owners, since many breeds require a certain physical activity commitment from you. However, the fact is that all pet owners, including those that have cats and other less physically demanding animals also spend more time engaging in physical activity. It really makes us think about the underlying, subconscious ways that animals impact our daily activities and the decisions that we make.
- Animals can often detect a serious issue with your health long before you can. Some animals seem to have the ability to sniff out any changes in their owner’s body. Because our pets are so familiar with us, it is natural for them to notice when something just isn’t right. There have been reports of animals that have detected cancer before there were any real symptoms, or prevented a diabetic coma by alerting other family members that something was wrong. The examples of how our close animal friends use their senses to protect our health and life are numerous and nothing short of amazing.
Emotional and Mental Health Benefits:
- Animal companionship is a natural antidepressant. Pet owners that have been diagnosed with clinical depression are shown to suffer less severe symptoms than those people who do not have a pet in their lives. Petting, playing with or simply being in the company of an animal releases the “feel-good chemicals” called serotonin and dopamine. This results in a natural feeling of elation and happiness, even if it is just for the few minutes that you are in contact with the animal. This is one reason why animal therapy is becoming more popular as a respected therapeutic option in mental health care facilities.
- Additionally, people who suffer from Alzheimer’s seem to have fewer aggressive outbursts when allowed interaction with domestic animals.
- It is hard to be lonely. It is true that when you are cuddled up with your favorite furry buddy it is difficult to feel completely alone, but it turns out that pet owners often have a fuller and more satisfying social life. Having pets gives you something to talk about and a reason to get out and meet other people with similar interests.
- Pets can add structure to your day. Sometimes one of the biggest obstacles you can face is the feeling that you have lost control. One of the best ways to begin to get your life back on track when this happens is to engage in routines, and if there is one thing a pet loves, it is a nice solid routine. Having a pet that wakes you at a certain hour, needs to be fed at a certain time, requires exercise or other demands means that you need to be accountable and forces some structure into your life, helping you to regain the control that you might have felt that you have lost.
- Pets reduce anxiety and help you feel safe. Companion animals offer comfort and encouragement. They care only about you and what you are doing at this very moment and they love you unconditionally. Your pet does not care about what you did yesterday and they are not at all worried about tomorrow. They not only offer comfort but they also help us see a new perspective where there is no place for unnecessary worry, and give us something to focus on other than stress and anxiety.
The health benefits listed here only begin to touch the many ways that pets can positively impact our lives. If you are one of the millions of Americans that have a pet in your home, you no doubt already understand the importance of the human-animal companion relationship. However, you might be wondering what can be done to tap into these benefits if you are not able to, or do not wish to have a pet in your home. There are countless reasons behind the decision of whether or not to interact with animals, and the choice is a personal one. However, regardless of whether or not you have a pet of your own, or an animal friend that you love, there are things you can do to encourage the proper treatment of animals and promote the beneficial relationship between them and us. Here are just a few ideas of ways that you can help protect animal life and encourage the healthy relationship that exists between all of us.
- Begin by choosing cruelty-free products from companies that stand strongly against animal testing. Check out the companies of the products you use the most and offer your support to those that respect the lives and fair treatment of animals.
- Support organizations that take care of and stand up for animals. There are many of them out there. Do a little research and choose one that is the most aligned with your ideals and then support them with your money or your time.
- Ask your local grocery store to stock cage-free eggs and grass-fed meats if they do not do so already. Support farmers and ranchers that adhere to humane and respectable practices.
- Make a pledge to eat less meat. This can begin with just one meal week, such as meatless dinner Mondays.
- Make your yard a hospitable place for local wildlife.
- If you have a pet, make sure that you have disaster survival kit prepared for them, as well as yourself. If you do not have pets, but know people that do, put together a few little kits that include basic animal necessities and give them as a gift.
- If you are interested in pet ownership, consider adoption before turning to private dealers or breeders.
- Volunteer your time with local organizations or offer to take care of the pets for someone that is ill, or otherwise unable to care for their animals properly.
- Educate your children thoroughly in the responsibilities of pet ownership.
- Use your words and write letters to legislatures regarding the fair and ethical treatment of animals.
Our animal companions look to us for love and protection, and the benefits we receive from our interactions with them are too numerous to count. They offer us emotional support, keep our bodies healthy and fill our hearts to overflowing. When we respect our animal friends and honor the connection that we have with them, we help preserve the integrity of the relationship that we have with each other, and all of the healthy benefits that come with it.