Pets have been an integral part of human life for thousands of years. Whether hunting, helping out on the farm, or simply providing companionship, our furry friends have always been important family members. But can pets actually make us live longer? The answer appears to be a resounding yes! The health benefits of having pets are well-documented. Here are a few ways your four-legged friend will help you live a long and happy life.
Pets keep us active.
All pet owners are familiar with that early morning wake up call—your dog hovering expectantly by your bed, whining for you to get up. You can forget sleeping in when Rover is around! Despite our best efforts, it’s hard to have a lazy day when you have a pet. Daily walks, trips to the park, and games of frisbee keep us moving. A dog is the perfect companion for a jog or a hike when you don’t want to go alone. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, people who exercise approximately 1 hour per day are less likely become overweight. That’s a breeze when you have a dog who is ready and willing to play! Obesity leads to a multitude of chronic problems, including heart disease, arthritis, stroke, or diabetes. The physical activity provided by our furry friends reaps multiple health benefits.
Pets reduce stress and blood pressure.
Pets are great at keeping us cool, calm, and collected. Studies show that simply gazing into a dog’s eyes increases oxytocin levels in humans. Oxytocin, the "cuddle chemical," helps to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Excessive cortisol has multiple negative effects on the body, including hypertension, or high blood pressure. According to the American Heart Association, several research studies have established a correlation between pet ownership and lower blood pressure. High blood pressure can have critical negative repercussions on our health. It puts us at much greater risk for heart attacks, strokes, or aneurysm, so having pets could really save our lives. In our chaotic world, we need to do whatever we can to reduce stress, and pet ownership may be the perfect antidote.
Pets ease our pain.
A recent fascinating study revealed that people who were visited by dogs after joint replacement surgery required less pain medication than those who didn't. By helping to control our pain after surgery, pet therapy may not only help to get us on our feet sooner, but also may prevent overuse and abuse of narcotic medications. Other reports indicate that pet ownership can help people living with chronic pain because they increase endorphin and dopamine levels, provide a source of comfort, and prevent social isolation. There are even certain breeds of dogs that are best for therapy roles.
Pets strengthen our children's immune systems.
There’s no doubt about the bond that forms between a boy and his dog. But so many parents worry that pets are unhygienic and will spread unwanted germs to their babies. It turns out this concern is unfounded. The health benefits of having pets aren’t limited to adults. Children with pets reap the same health benefits as adults. But there are additional advantages of pet ownership that apply specifically to kids.
According to research published in JAMA Pediatrics, children exposed to pets at a very early age have a reduced risk of asthma. Another study revealed that young infants exposed to dogs were less likely to develop allergies as they grew up. Numerous studies have suggested that early exposure to germs may strengthen our kid’s immune system so that they can successfully ward off disease as they get older. With all of this evidence, parents should have no qualms about getting a pet—it will pay off in more ways than one for their children's health. Plus, there are even certain dog breeds best suited for children and families.
Pets help kids with ADHD and autism.
Studies show animals provide health benefits for kids living with attention disorders and autism. When children with ADHD read to a dog on a weekly basis, they had fewer behavioral issues and more improved social interactions compared to a control group. Another study found that classroom guinea pigs were comforting to kids with autism spectrum disorders, resulting in less anxiety and better relationships with their classmates. Since pets in the classroom are a wonderful asset for children with these challenges, it is likely that having a furry friend at home will be of even greater benefit.
Pets keep people with disabilities safe.
For some people, the benefits of having pets by their side are crucial to living independently. Guide dogs keep people with visual, hearing, or physical impairments safe from accidents and allow them to stay socially and physically active. Medical alert dogs are highly trained to detect seizures in epileptic patients, blood sugar abnormalities in diabetics, and potential allergen exposure in people with severe food allergies. Thanks to a dog's ability to detect a potential health crisis, people with serious illnesses or impairments can have safer and more enriched lives.
Pets protect us from harm.
We all know the stories of Lassie saving little Timmy from danger. But dogs in real life are heroes too. Even if your dog’s bark is scarier than their bite, they can protect our homes from potential intruders. People who walk alone may be safer with a dog at their side. Additionally, pets are often the first to alert us of house fires or other disasters, allowing us to bring our families to safety. If you're feeling unsafe in your environment, a pet may be a great solution.
Pets improve our mental health.
The health benefits of having pets are not limited to physical wellbeing. There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence that pets provide valuable emotional support for individuals who suffer from mental health disorders, including anxiety or depression. In addition to providing companionship, they can keep us calm when faced with stressful situations. Pet ownership combats loneliness and can help expand our social circles through pet interest groups or activities. Even cats have positive impacts on mental health.
Highly trained psychiatric service dogs can help people with debilitating mental illness when they are suffering a crisis by bringing a phone and alerting close family members. Pets have also been shown to help people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While more research still needs to be conducted, initial reports from Purdue University suggest that pets can help decrease anxiety, nightmares, or flashbacks in military veterans. People with PTSD may feel more secure going out in public and into crowds with a dog by their side. It's no question that pet ownership can enhance our mental health and improve our quality of life.
Pets enrich the lives of the elderly.
Pets may be just what the doctor ordered for people in their twilight years. Numerous studies have been conducted on the health benefits of having pets in homes for older adults. Pet therapy programs at nursing homes are highly successful in improving the well-being of residents. Visits from animals can relieve emotional problems, improve mental acuity, and give older individuals a sense of purpose. Research performed on patients with Alzheimer’s disease revealed that a dog may help reduce behavior problems in dementia care facilities. The health benefits are not just limited to dogs. Another study found that exposure to an aquarium helped to increase nutritional intake and weight gain in dementia patients. For many older adults, pets are just what the doctor ordered to maintain a fulfilling life.
Pets comfort cancer patients.
Many people fighting cancer experience a drop in their social and emotional health in addition to their physical decline. However, pet therapy programs have been effective at reversing this trend. Research shows that chemotherapy patients who were visited by animals throughout their treatment regimen showed improvement in their emotional well-being and reduced stress levels. It is even postulated that patients may be more likely to keep coming to their cancer treatment appointments because they look forward to visiting with a furry friend. The benefits that pets bring may even go beyond the cancer patients themselves. Interestingly, one study showed that visits from therapy dogs decreased stress levels of the family members of children suffering from cancer. By easing the emotional toil of a cancer battle, pets can help patients and their families focus on physical recovery.
In conclusion, there are multiple remarkable health benefits of having pets. Whether animals are giving our physical activity a boost, improving our mental health, reducing our stress, preventing our children from illness, or enhancing the lives of the elderly and sick, there is no question that pet ownership improves our quality of life. When you adopt a pet, you may be saving their lives. As it turns out, they are also saving yours.