Doctors' Choice Physical Medicine

Pets Make You Healthy

Most pet owners know that their pets make them happy, but they may not know all the ways their pets make them healthy, both mentally and physically.

The mere presence of a pet in the room has a calming effect on most people. Pet owners have been studied and found to release a neurochemical called oxytocin, which gives us feelings of joy. This is accompanied by a subsequent decrease in cortisol, which is called the “stress” hormone.

Most people who have dogs find that they are physically healthier because they take daily walks. This goes back to the basic prescription doctors give their patients to exercise for thirty minutes daily. Taking your dog for a single walk every day will fulfill that prescription. In addition, those daily walks lower both cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Petting either a dog or a cat is associated with lowered blood pressure. This is what would be called a mutually beneficial event. For people taking medication for hypertension, their stress blood pressure response was half of that of people who did not own a pet.

All of these benefits combine to a huge reduction in your risk of cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association studied pet ownership and cardiovascular disease risk and have concluded that having a pet produces a very positive outcome.

Some people resist getting a pet saying that they’re afraid they’re allergic to animals. That’s certainly a possibility. But having a pet may actually prevent allergies in your children. A study of children who were exposed to pets by the time they were six months old were less likely to have allergic responses such as hay fever and eczema when they got older. The longer the child is exposed to an animal, the stronger the result. It’s certainly not a sure-cure for allergies as there are plenty of people who grew up on farms still suffer from allergies.

Animals also reduce levels of depression and have a very positive impact on symptoms of PTSD. There are dog trainers who specialize in training service animals for service men and women returning from military duty who suffer from PTSD. The companionship of a dog eases their symptoms and helps them to live fuller lives.

Additionally, pets ease chronic pain. As mentioned earlier, simply being in the same room as your dog or cat releases endorphins that make you feel good. These chemicals also relieve pain symptoms. Service animals visiting patients in the hospital give unexpected pain reduction in a single visit.

Having a pet provides so many benefits. They improve your health, ease symptoms of pain, improve relationships and even boost your self esteem. Pets are non-judgmental. They are always happy to see you and don’t care what people at work think of you. Pets also help to teach children about compassion and empathy.

Photo Credit: Pet Love via Roger at Flickr