The Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

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We all know that animals are certainly wonderful companions that can encourage the development of responsibility, but have you ever considered the potential health benefits of owning a pet? There are a variety of emotional, physical, and mental gains that an animal can provide. The next time you try to convince someone to get a pet, remember to keep the following reasons in your arsenal!

1. Allergy reduction

This claim may seem counterintuitive, especially for those who are allergic to animal fur. However, Dr. James Gern of the University of Wisconsin in Madison has performed studies that have in fact revealed that the presence of a dog can improve young children’s immune systems. More specifically, a dog can decrease a child’s likelihood of developing allergies! On the other hand, family members with preexisting allergies may benefit from a hypoallergenic pet, such as geckos, fish, Portuguese water dogs, Sphynx cats, or Syrian hamsters. While Dr. Gern’s studies only involved dogs, owners of other pets can certainly reap benefits from their companion. Bear in mind that there is no such thing as a “100% allergen-free” mammal; the term “hypoallergenic” often refers to mammals that are simply lower in allergens but are not completely free of them. Fish may potentially be the only allergen-free pet that’s widely available.

2. Heart health improvements

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that pets can improve human heart health, due to increased opportunities for outdoor, physical activity and socialization. Studies conducted by the CDC and National Institute of Health (NIH) have demonstrated lowered triglyceride, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels in pet owners. While maintenance of cardiovascular health often makes us think of intense aerobic exercise, not all humans enjoy intense running, hiking, or biking. However, playing with toys or a simple walk with a pet can also maintain or decrease human stress levels, which certainly contributes to better cardiovascular health. A dog or cat can even improve the recovery of patients who have had heart attacks!

3. Weight management

What better way to maintain or lose weight than by having a physical reminder to exercise daily? Many pets—most notably canines—require daily physical activity in order to control energy levels. Choose a dog whose physical size and exercise needs complement your lifestyle; a large dog will require longer hours of more intense activity, while a smaller dog will prefer shorter, less vigorous walks. The NIH performed a study involving over two thousand participants, and logically concluded that owners who walk their dogs themselves are less likely to be obese than owners who shirk or pass on their responsibilities.

4. Emotional support

Your pet does not have to be a therapy-qualified animal to bring you joy. On top of providing love and support, animals can provide owners with purpose; the basic companionship between an owner and animal reduces loneliness. One study has even revealed that simply looking at a dog can release endorphins and boost mood.

5. Increased sociability

People are more likely to approach other individuals in public when pets are involved. For example, they may be interested in a fellow animal lover, or simply be attracted to the animal itself. Regardless of the reason, being with your pet publicly displays an interest that others are bound to share. Even if you are not very sociable, an animal-human relationship can be just as fulfilling as a relationship with another human.

6. Pain relief

Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker states that pets can alleviate anxiety, “just like valium.” An individual suffering from chronic arthritis or migraines can also look to pets for pain relief; a Loyola University study has even found that postoperative patients depend significantly less on pain medication if they have regular interactions with pets.

7. Assistance with mental health disorders

Pet therapy (also known as assisted animal therapy) is widely used to aid individuals with various conditions, including emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders. Animals are not judgmental, and provide unconditional love, ensuring emotional security and stability in the human and animal relationship. Examples of disorders that can respond to animal therapy include dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, and substance addictions.

8. Seizure detection

Finally, in addition to increasing social behaviors, animals can be trained to recognize human behaviors and to respond in ways that promote health and safety. Service dogs can be trained to remain near their owners during a seizure, and some have even alerted their human companions of an approaching seizure ahead of time. A service dog can also provide protection; as the University of Florida’s Office of Veterinary Medicine research coordinator (Deborah Dalziel) noted, “some people have been robbed while having a seizure.” Potential robbers will be certainly discouraged in the presence of a loyal dog!