Animals Are More Than Just Friends: Health Benefits of Pets
Pets can be great companions, but they can also offer some surprising health benefits!
Since I can remember my household has always had pets. I grew up with several dogs, but we also had guinea pigs, fish, turtles, rabbits, and many other different types of pets. Because I was raised to appreciate and respect pets and the unconditional love they can offer, I still have pets as an adult and have a deep love for all animals. As I got older, I also realized there are many wonderful health benefits for humans that own companion animals.
First of all, having the right type of pet is important for you and the entire family. It shouldn't be a pet anyone is afraid of, a pet no one wants to take care of, a pet that doesn't fit in with the family's lifestyle, a pet people are allergic to, etc. For example, if you love to have lots of peace and quiet, picking a loud bird would totally be an inappropriate pet, but a cat might be a better choice. You should know what that specific pet needs and be able to provide above and beyond their basics for love and care.
Once you have the right pet in your home it can be very rewarding and teach responsibility as well. Children can help in the care of the pet such as feeding, cleaning, walking if needed, and other necessities. Children should also be taught at a young age other responsibilities that come along with owning a pet such as good hygiene for themselves as well, such as washing their own hands after touching the pet or pet supplies.
Much scientific research has been done analyzing the positive affects pets have on people, but there are so many other factors it's hard to single out anything with 100% certainty. However, many commonalities exist, thus leading professionals to believe many of these effects are basically universal. That being said, research indicates lower risk factors for heart disease (including lowering blood pressure and keeping cholesterol within healthier levels), lowering stress, healthier social behavior, and better health in general such as maintaining good exercise routines and increased levels of physical activity. Studies also indicate pets in the workplace tends to reduce stress, increase productivity, and help with organizational skills, to name a few.
Pets can offer assistance with loneliness, traumatic events such as deaths, divorce, loss of a job, recovery from surgery and diseases, and other stressful and often upsetting occurrences; the immune system functioning better for most people; depression, anxiety, anger, hostility, and other disorders and conditions.
Somewhat surprisingly, pets offer even more for the elderly, with research showing elderly adults who own pets visiting the doctor less frequently, less stress, and better coping mechanisms when dealing with stress and losses compared to those who did not own pets. According to the website 2ndchance4pets.org:
"Additional studies support the idea that pets can provide seniors with physical contact and comfort, decrease loneliness and depression, and serve as an external attention focus. Pets in nursing homes have been associated with decreased psychotropic medication usage and a greater than 50 percent reduction in healthcare costs."
Obviously pet ownership has many visible health effects, such as basic companionship and the joy of having unconditional love from another creature, but there are also many benefits pets offer that may not be detected with the naked eye. These benefits range from lower stress to better coping mechanisms and better cardiovascular health, among many others. If you've never had a pet, why not reconsider. Check your local shelter for an animal who needs a caring home, and bring home your next best friend today. I would think just the joy of knowing you are saving another living thing would be reward enough!
(Originally published at Yahoo! Contributor Network [Associated Content], a site no longer in operation.)
Image Credit » Personal Photo of Kilo and Scrappy playing in the snow circa 2004