The five health benefits of pets (and the happiest of Mother's Days to other fur mums)
By Amy Crawford
The sheer love I feel for my very best (fur) friend Wilson, leaves me marvelling at the love a mother must feel for her (human) child. As ridiculous as I'm sure this sounds to many, this little guy brings me more joy than anything ever has - and I reckon that's pretty obvious by the man handling that goes on in our house. If only you could see the way he shies away from me when I attempt to give him the biggest (human) hugs imaginable - with body language that speaks "Oh mummm!! Stop it...grosssss!!". Oh man I love my dog.
Wilson came into my life at the very beginning of my CFS journey. I was doing my best to prove I was quite capable of living alone (though not terribly successfully). Barely seeing a soul day to day I quickly got very sick of myself and my predicament, not to mention the loneliness; I bored myself silly actually. Adopting Wilson took the focus off me, gave me a sense of purpose in my day and put the smile back on my face. From that very first day he's been with me 24/7, every step of the way. He's at my feet as I type (right now); he's at them on the couch during my favourite TV series viewing; he's at them as I eat (with an ever so hopeful look on his gorgeous little face) and he's there almost every time I leave my home (as many friends attest being forced to sit outside cafes and bare the elements - sorry about that guys).
Today I've decided to dedicate this post to all the fur mothers out there who'll be sitting up in bed on Mother's Day eating (self made) breakfast with a fur child at their side, sharing in the unconditional love that knows no bounds (or talking back ;-))
So, other than the unconditional love we feel, what are some of the other benefits of being a pet owner? Let's find out.
"When a dog wags his tail, it is connected to his heart." Anon.
1. Reduced Risk of Allergies, Asthma, and Eczema.
Once upon a time it was thought that if your family had a pet, the children were more likely to become allergic to the pet and become sensitive to allergies as they developed. And that if you came from an allergy prone family, pets most definitely should be avoided. However, a growing amount of research suggests that the truth is quite the opposite. Kids that grow up with a pet cat or a dog, or even on a farm, develop resistance to allergens and thus have less risk of allergies and asthma, as per the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
Researcher James Gern of the University of Wisconsin purports that if a dog lived in the home, infants were 19-33% less likely to show evidence of pet allergies, and specifically excema. Essentially, at the crux of it is that "dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system".
2. Improved mood.
A lot of the health benefits of owning a pet may stem from the mental and emotional benefits. Studies show that when petting a dog, a hormone called oxytocin kicks into high gear. Oxytocin, which is sometimes dubbed “the cuddle hormone,” helps reduce blood pressure and decreases levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress and anxiety.
Additionally, recent studies suggest people supplemented with oxytocin heal faster. This is a primary reason pets are used in various forms of therapy. Just think of the use of dogs in children’s hospital or rehab centers, and the positive effects they have on healing.
3. A stronger cardiovascular system, and lower blood pressure.
The simple act of petting an animal, or gazing into an aquarium even, results in a drop in blood pressure. Pets can have a longer-term impact on the cardiovascular system too. It has been found that pet ownership alleviates the high blood pressure response to mental stress, to the extent that a traditional hypertension drug could not.
4. Improved fitness.
Even the simple act of taking a dog for a walk is healthful. There's the obvious cardiovascular benefit, and I also note a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health that states dog owners are 34% more likely to complete the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week. Additionally, having a family dog increases physical activity among adolescents, important as childhood obesity reaches epidemic proportions in developed worlds.
5. Increased social interaction.
Dogs are are a social lubricant, meaning you are more likely to stop and chat with people when you have a wagging tail at the end of a leash, allowing us to foster meaningful relationships with others. Oh who am I kidding, they are a date magnet! Forget internet dating, a dog is a natural conversation starter!
Animals have been shown to boost confidence, and ease people out of social isolation or shyness. People ask about breed, they watch the dog's tricks. Sometimes the conversation just stays at the 'dog level', but sometimes it can result in so much more.
Now I'm not suggesting you all go out and aquire a pet on a whim. You need to know that the situation is right for you. Are your living arrangements suitable? Will you be able to give your pet the love and attention it deserves? Do you travel a lot? Many elements to consider. For those of you who do have pets, I would love to hear your pet related stories. How has your animal positively affected your life?