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When pets are better than pills

 | July 3, 2012

Some medical findings to help convince you on the benefits of having a pet.

FEATURE

We pump our bodies with vitamins. Diet religiously. And drink the prerequisite eight glasses of water daily. So why do we still feel sluggish and stressed at the end of the day?

Numerous studies have shown that owning a pet is beneficial to our health both physically and psychologically. Don’t buy it?

Maybe these medical findings will help convince you.

Healthier heart

Pet owners have a lower risk of dying from any cardiac disease, including heart failure. A 20-year study showed that people with no cats were 40 percent more likely to die of a heart attack than those who did have a cat. People who kept dogs had a significantly better survival rate one year after a heart attack.

In a study involving 76 heart patients at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, it was found that levels of epinephrine, a hormone the body makes when under stress, dropped about 17 percent in patients visited by a dog. Their heart pressure also dropped 10 percent while their lung pressure, 5 percent.

Fewer strokes

If you’re a cat lover, you’ll probably live longer. Researchers believe that cats have a more calming effect on their owners than other animals do. Also cat lovers have different personalities, often making their kitties the focus of their attention, which in turn diverts them from other stressful worries. As a result of this, cat owners tend to suffer less strokes that those who don’t have cats.

Lowers blood pressure

Who would have thought your pooch could help lower your pressure? Yet, she unknowingly does. In a study of 240 married couples, it was found that pet owners had lower blood pressure and heart rates while at rest compared to those who did not own a pet. In a separate study, children with hypertension could lower their blood pressure just by petting their dog.

Greater fitness

People with pets generally lead more physically active lives and are less obese than their peers without pets. A 30-minute walk with your dog is good for your heart, healthy for your bones and builds strength and stamina. Even a game of catch or fetch with her will make you break out in a sweat and boost your health. A study also found that pet owners managed their cholesterol levels better due to their more physical lifestyle.

Mood enhancers

A certain Ben Williams said, “There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.” How true! Studies have shown it takes less than 30 minutes interacting with your cat or dog to lessen anxiety and stress levels. Cortisol, a hormone associated with stress is lowered in that span of time while serotonin, a chemical associated with wellbeing, is increased. Petting your cat or dog has a calming effect while talking to them about your worries helps you release pent-up emotions. Pets also don’t judge so speaking to them about your worries and fears won’t be met with a rolling of eyes or a “I told you so!” comment. What’s more the act of caring for your pet – walking her, grooming her or playing with her helps you focus on other things besides yourself.

Greater socialisation

It’s almost impossible to walk your dog and not end-up making small talk with others doing the same. And while the relationships might not be deep and meaningful, it gives you an opportunity to exchange fun information about your dog with another who is genuinely interested to hear it. Engaging with others also keeps your mind healthy and lessens feelings of isolation that can lead to loneliness and depression.

Fewer allergies, stronger immunity

Some young parents give away their cats or dogs when a new baby arrives yet research has shown that when kids grow up in a home with a pet, they are less likely to develop allergies. These kids have higher levels of certain immune system chemicals, indicating a stronger immune system activation that does help keep them healthy as they get older.

Kids with ADHD & autism

Kids with ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) benefit from caring for and playing with a pet. The activity teaches them the importance of responsibility while playing helps release pent-up energy. In kids with autism, playing with dogs helps reduce anxiety and aggressive behaviour. A dog is also useful during family outings with autistic kids as they tend to wander off and a trained dog can help prevent this dangerous situation by alerting the parents when the kid wanders off.

Although after reading this you may feel tempted to go out there and get yourself a pet, remember that owning a pet is a big responsibility. Even a bird in a cage or fish in a bowl will require regular feeding and cleaning and these responsibilities should not be taken lightly. For those of you who already have pets, here’s wishing you a healthy and happy life with each other.


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