Wednesday, May 26, 2010

How Pets Raise Spirits and Improve Health by Ann Pietrangelo

Pets are good for you.
Most people who have a pet don’t need scientific proof. Their own experiences are enough to confirm that the bond between humans and pets is enormously beneficial to physical and emotional health. The unconditional affection of a pet calms, soothes, and enhances the feeling of well-being.
Here I was, just beginning to draft an article about the health benefits of pets, when a Facebook friend posted the following message. “Hey, FB Friends: I want another dog and my family says ‘no’ because I have MS. What do you think? I want a new rescue dog.”
Having multiple sclerosis (MS) myself, I understand the desire for the kind of companionship that only a pet can give. Her family is probably concerned about the commitment it takes to properly care for a pet, and understandably so. Choosing the right pet for your personal circumstances requires planning, but you are likely to get quite a return for your efforts.
The non-profit Delta Society reports that 63 percent of all households in the U.S. have pets; 39 percent of all households have at least one dog and 34 percent have at least one cat. The benefits of having a pet include:
  • For Children: Children can learn valuable lessons in responsibility; caring for other living beings improves self-esteem. The unconditional love creates a bond that will be treasured for a lifetime. Pets also encourage children to engage in physical activity. An Australian study indicates dog ownership may help fight childhood obesity. Researchers found that children five to six years old were 50 percent less likely to be overweight if they had a dog. This benefit was present even if those children did not regularly walk the dog and regardless of economic status of the household.
  • For Adults: Busy work schedules need to be balanced with play. Spending time with a pet can lower anxiety and stress levels. For people who are shy or have trouble making friends, having a pet breaks social barriers and feelings of isolation. And it’s fairly difficult to stay in a bad mood when your pet looks up at you with those big, loving eyes, or takes to your lap.
  • For Seniors: Studies show that older people with dogs visit the doctor less often with minor health issues and have lower levels of blood pressure and cholesterol than non-pet owners. Seniors are advised to have pets that are easily managed. Many nursing homes have visiting pet programs that have been shown to have a tremendous impact on human lives.
Therapy animals are trained to provide companionship to people who are trying to overcome depression and loneliness, among other things. That says a lot about the human-animal connection. And let’s not forget the hard-working and dedicated service animals who are trained to assist people with disabilities. Although these animals are not generally considered pets, the bond between people and their service animals is profound.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that benefits to owning a pet include decreases in:
and increases in:
Years ago, when my husband and I found ourselves in a too tidy and too quiet home, we decided to inject a little life into things. A dog wasn’t quite right for our lifestyle, so off to the animal shelter we went in search of a cat. We found one… make that two. The brother-sister duo we named Smokey and Bandit did exactly what we hoped they would — they added chaos and noise and laughs and cuddles. Just what the doctor ordered.
Bandit has since left this world, but Smokey hasn’t let up in her duties. To this day, when MS symptoms get the best of me, she snuggles up when I need her most. I can’t tell you, scientifically speaking, how that affects my health. I can tell you that she lifts my spirits and helps me put aside my troubles. That’s enough for me.
As for my Facebook friend, I hope she works things out with her family; I hope they volunteer to help her care for the dog when MS gets the upper hand; I hope she gets her rescue dog. When it comes to people and pets, sometimes they rescue each other.

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