20 Health Benefits of Pets And Why You Should Have Them In Your Life
Anyone who has arrived home and been greeted by a loving pet knows how effective they can be at lowering stress levels. Studies (Psychosocial and Psychophysiological Effects of Human-Animal Interactions: The Possible Role of Oxytocin) published by the National Institutes of Health indicate that cuddle time with your pets increases oxytocin levels for both the pet and the human. Oxytocin is a miracle chemical that calms and soothes and creates a strong bond between the human and the pet. This bond is just as intense of one between humans.
Dogs offer affection and accept it, too. When they are frightened, they run to their own for comfort. They also make eye contact with humans and enjoy being around us. While cats are considered the aloof house pet, they also show signs of attachment to their humans. They just show it in a different way. Both tend to greet you as you come home from work and offer love and affection when you are feeling down or emotional about something.
So, does having a pet make you healthier? There are a wide variety of health benefits to having a pet, from a reduced risk of allergies and asthma to improved cardiovascular health. Of course, pets also provide an increase in psychological and physical well-being.
20 Health Benefits of Pets
The Center for Disease Control cites a plethora of health benefits for having a pet. Below, we will discuss these in a bit more detail and also cover a variety of other health benefits.
A pet is a constant reminder that you should live in the moment. It’s the only way they know how to do it, so it’s a great reminder to us how we obsess over the past and feel anxious about the future. Your pet is living in the now, they are focused on what is happening right now. While we may think of them as simple creatures they seem to be wiser than us in many ways. So, the next time you’re enjoying time with your cat or taking your dog out for a walk – take your time, have a look around, and truly enjoy the moment.
There was always a worry that having a pet would cause children to have allergies and suffer from asthma. Additionally, the thought was that you should avoid pets if your family is prone to allergies. However, according to WebMD children who grow up in a home with pets are less likely to struggle with asthma and allergies. This researcher analyzed blood from babies immediately after they were born and again a year later. He was interested in allergic reactions and immunity changes.
Infants who lived with a dog in the home were less likely to show signs of pet allergies and eczema. They also showed high levels of immune system chemicals, which is a sign of a much stronger immune system.
Dogs tend to be dirty, so babies who are exposed more to allergens and dirt will have a stronger immune system.
A Date Magnet
For the singletons out there, dogs are an excellent way to make new connections, especially when it comes to love. You can forget dating apps to find your one true love, take your dog to the park to get a conversation started.
It’s a great way to ease yourself from social isolation or get over your shyness. People will strike up a conversation about what type of dog you have, what its name is, and while some conversations may stick to dogs, you might just find yourself branching out to make a real love connection.
Wellbeing For Seniors
WebMD studies (webmd.com/alzheimers/default.htm) indicate that patients with dementia experience fewer outbursts of anxiety when they have an animal in their home. It has also proven to be less of a burden for caregivers (especially when it is a cat, as they require less care).
The responsibility of caring for a pet offers elderly people an opportunity to exercise and offers companionship, too. In fact, some insurance companies ask clients over 75 if they have pets.
Mind & Soul
AIDS patients benefit from owning a pet, as they are less likely to have depression when compared to non-pet owning AIDS patients. A study from the University at Buffalo found that stockbrokers who adopted a pet saw their high blood pressure drop when handling stressful situations.
When we are in stress mode our bodies release harmful chemicals, which have a negative impact on the immune system. Studies have discovered a link between these stress chemicals and the buildup of plaque in the arteries, which is a serious heart disease red flag.
Playing with your pet can increase dopamine and serotonin levels, nerve transmitters known to have calming and pleasurable properties. Drug addicts take cocaine and heroin to get that feeling, but instead, they could spend time with a pet.
Pets, including dogs and cats, bring a unique form of companionship and unconditional love, which feeds and nourishes the human soul.
After a heart attack, a patient with a pet increases their odds for survival. It increases the survival rate for patients who live one year following hospitalization, with just 6% of non-pet owners surviving.
This is particularly beneficial for men, as men who own pets have low cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as a lower risk of heart disease.
People who experience seizures periodically have said that their dogs alert them to the onset of one before they know themselves. Now, dogs are specially trained to recognize the early signs before a seizure and can signal to their owner when one is coming. This allows the owner plenty of time to prepare for the seizure. Seizure alert dogs can signal an impending seizure to their own up to 45 minutes before a seizure begins.
Parkinson’s Disease Freezing
Parkinson’s Disease patients suffer from more than just stiffness and tremors. They also deal with freezing. This is when their feet freeze, even though the rest of their body is still moving.
Because this results in falls, many Parkinson’s Disease patients become afraid to move and become sedentary and reclusive.
Dogs have been trained to identify when their owner is experiencing a freeze. The dog will then touch their owner’s foot, breaking the freeze, and allowing them to continue their movement. Experts do not know why it works, nor do they know how it works. They just know that it does work. Additionally, dogs are taught how to help their owner from falling by offering them a counterbalance to help with regaining their footing. If their owner does fall, the dog can assist them in getting back up.
George, a Florida dog, has had a 100% accuracy rate when it comes to detecting malignant melanomas. Researchers across the world have now been studying the ability of dogs to smell prostate cancer in men’s urine.
George isn’t the first dog to do this, and we know they can sniff out other skin cancers, as well as breast and bladder cancer. There are countless stories about dogs obsessing over a certain part of the body only to later find the owner had cancer. In 1989, a Canadian woman found out that she had cancer, all because her dog was obsessed with a thigh mole. The dog was so obsessed with it that he even tried to bite it when she woke shorts.
It has only been in the last two decades or so that researchers have delved deeper into the sniffing ability of dogs. One such study (Diagnostic Accuracy of Canine Scent Detection in Early- and Late-Stage Lung and Breast Cancers), in 2006, found that dogs could be trained to detect cancer from breath samples. After they were trained they had an 88% accuracy rate for detecting breast cancer and a 99% accuracy rate for detecting lung cancer.
This brain disorder has an effect on the sleep-wake cycle. Someone can fall asleep in the middle of a task, whether it’s driving a car, or cooking over a hot stove. It can result in serious injury, an accident while driving, burns while cooking, or injuries from falling.
Dogs have been trained as service dogs for narcolepsy since 2010. They are able to pick up a scent when an attack is coming. There’s a biochemical change, while we don’t know what it smells like, the dogs do.
In a 2013 study (Narcolepsy and odor: preliminary report) from a clinic in Madrid, Spain, it was found that two dogs who had undergone training could detect narcolepsy patients from sweat samples. Their accuracy rate was 99%.
Service dogs can assist narcoleptics with a variety of attacks, such as preventing them from falling from a chair during an attack, and protecting them if an attack occurs in public. Most importantly, they can warn five minutes before an attack is coming.
Migraines can be debilitating, so having a tip-off that one is coming can be the difference between hours (or even days) of unbearable pain or a chance to manage the problem. Luckily, dogs have quite the talent for sensing when a migraine is coming.
Psychology Today reported on a study where migraine sufferers were asked whether their dog’s behavior changed either before or during a migraine. Over half of the participants had
noticed changes in their pet’s behavior. While 60% of them reported that their dog had previously alerted them, up to two hours in advance, of an impending migraine. Of course, this was based on self-reporting, as opposed to observational research from professionals. However, the study indicates that dogs are in touch with our health.
Low Blood Sugar
Dogs are also serving diabetics! They let their owner know where their blood sugar level is dropping. Dogs undergo training to learn how to detect these changes and alert their handlers before being placed with an insulin-dependent diabetic.
Diabetes Care published a study (Exhaled Breath Isoprene Rises During Hypoglycemia in Type 1 Diabetes) in 2016 that indicates its isoprene that dogs can detect. This is the natural chemical in the breath that changes when blood sugar drops. While humans are unable to detect this chemical, dogs are highly sensitive to it. Dogs are trained to discriminate between a current episode and a previous one and can detect when there is an issue present to alert their handler. This provides the handler with enough time to check their blood sugar levels and take insulin.
Anxiety & Fear
We know that dogs smell fear. They know when we are suffering from increased stress levels, even if we aren’t displaying any outward signs. What they smell is a surge of hormones. When our bodies release excess levels of cortisol and adrenalin, dogs pick up on that. This can often be of great benefit to humans. Have you ever been around a dog when you have been incredibly upset? They tend to offer comfort when you’re down. The same can be said for panic attacks. Dogs can alert their handlers to changes in emotional state and prevent a variety of episodes, including panic attacks.
Active & Fit
Adults should be getting around 2.5 hours of moderate exercise every week. If you own a dog, you are far more likely to achieve that type of goal. People enjoy taking their dogs for a walk and hanging out in the park with them. Dogs are a great way for pet owners to stay active and fit.
This is especially helpful as we age, as regular activity helps us stay mobile into our old age. Seniors who walk their dogs visit the doctor less, have lower BMIs, and aren’t as limited when it comes to daily living.
What better to lose weight than chasing your pet at the park? Walking your dog every day is a great way to drop excess pounds because you are forced into getting up to 30 minutes of moderate activity at one time.
Moreover, when you take your dog for a walk it doesn’t seem like exercise, does it? You’re just taking your dog out to do its business and letting him get the exercise, right?
Improved Social Connections
It gets harder to meet new people as we get older, which can lead to loneliness and isolation. Loneliness and isolation tend to result in depression, which can have a serious impact on your overall health and wellbeing. Studies have found that dog owners make friends quickly and easily, simply because dog owners chat to other dog owners while walking their pets. If you have a particularly cute dog, you may even find non-dog owners approaching you to talk about your dog.
Therapy dogs are effective because it takes just a few minutes of interaction with a pet to reduce blood pressure and anxiety levels. Pets increase dopamine and serotonin levels, which of course, play a large role in your feeling of calm and wellbeing.
People have been shown to perform better handling stressful tasks when there’s a pet around. They don’t just ease tensions at the office either, they can also reduce tension between married couples!
Purpose & Meaning
This is especially important for the elderly among us. Once we reach retirement it can be difficult to maintain a routine, and find meaning in daily life. A pet provides a new sense of purpose in life. A pet doesn’t care if you don’t feel great physically, mentally, or emotionally. They’re happy to be with you and offer comfort, provided you feed them, of course.
They’re great at keeping you connected because there is no option to stay in when you need to walk a pet. Avoiding isolation and loneliness is also incredibly important for preventing a decline in cognitive abilities. You have someone else to focus on outside yourself. Pets provide you with a reason to get up every day.
Depression & Prevention
People with pets are less likely to have depression as do people without pets. This may be because they offer companionship, and do so much to do boost overall health and wellbeing. Therapy dogs have become increasingly popular for people with mental health issues.
Reduction In Hospital Visits
Helpguide.org reports that pet owners over the age of 65 seek out medical assistance around 30% less frequently than non-pet owners do. Over a one year period, Medicare seniors contact their doctor less than those without pets. Dogs are by far the most effective pet for
preventing hospital visits, but birds, cats, and other animals are also helpful. Dogs (and cats) are effective buffers when it comes to the stressful situations life brings.
Anyone who has spent even a minute on the internet knows just how much people love pictures and videos of cats and dogs doing adorable, funny things. So, of course, it makes sense that pets lift our spirits and have great benefits to our health. If a picture of a video is enough to lift your mood, spending time with an animal is a sure way to boost your spirits.
The reason that dog owners benefit so much from lower blood pressure and increased cardiovascular health is because of the increase in exercise. You may be able to make excuses to skip the gym, but you definitely can’t get out of taking the dog for a walk. Taking your dog out also increases a connection with your community and your social interaction. In turn, this reduces stress levels. Owning a pet is particularly helpful for anyone who lives alone, especially if you suffer from depression.
In addition to the traditional service pet, pets can also help people with autism or learning difficulties. There have been numerous studies of children who have been locked in their own world, completely cut off and uncommunicative with those around then. However, after getting a pet and forming a close bond they have been able to emerge and engage with the outside world. They tend to show emotion that has not been experienced previously. This isn’t just reserved for cats and dogs, either, there are therapy goats, chickens, ducks, geese, and even guinea pigs. You’d be surprised at home effective untrained animals can be at bringing out the best in people.
While untrained animals are incredible, those dogs who undergo training are even more amazing.
They offer service to those with hearing or vision impairments, people with Parkinson’s Disease, and much more. They alert their owner to impending seizures, freezes, migraines, panic attacks, and even narcolepsy attacks. They have long been referred to as man’s best friend, and that was long before we knew all of these astonishing things that dogs can assist with.
There is a wide variety of health benefits to having a dog, but it certainly goes beyond just those basic benefits. Having a pet who can alert you to an impending seizure or freeze can provide you with a peace of mind. We often dismiss just how stressful having a medical illness can be. We tend to shrug issues like epilepsy and migraines off, without truly considering just how debilitating they can be to the people who suffer from those problems. Just because something doesn’t result in immediate death doesn’t mean it isn’t a source of worry, anxiety, and strife in someone’s life.
Just having the ability to predict when an attack is coming is enough to provide someone with calmness and reduce stress levels. Dogs provide their owners with a chance to prepare for a health problem and take safety precautions to ensure they are not injured or harmed during an attack. Their sense of smell is truly a force for good in the world, and can possible alert owners to cancer and more.
There, of course, is a downside to pet ownership and unfortunately, it is an inevitable one. Losing a pet is just as traumatic as losing a human friend or family member. However, this doesn’t stop us from engaging with our family and friends, so it certainly shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the many benefits of welcoming a furry friend into your home.
They may be with us for a short period of time, but they live in your heart forever, and the health benefits that they bring are priceless.
If you or your loved ones suffer from any of the above illnesses then you may want to consider getting a pet. It may just change your life.