Can Owning a Pet Improve Your Health?


Can owning a pet improve your health? Read on to find out!

The American Heart Association published two studies about dogs with findings that included:

·         Those who own a dog tend to live longer than those who do not

·         Dog owners often recover better from major health events, like a stroke or heart attack

·         Better recovery times hold true especially if a person lives alone with their dog (or dogs)

·         If dog owners do have a heart attack or stroke, they are less likely to die from the event

There are many other studies that have shown what our pets can do for us. For instance, the National Poll on Healthy Aging by the University of Michigan found that 79% of older adults look to their pets for stress relief, while 34% feel a reduction in pain, and 73% feel an important sense of purpose with their pet around.

Why Does Owning a Pet Affect Our Health?

There are many reasons why owning a pet can affect our health, but the biggest reason is very simple: they make us feel good. And positive mental health influences positive physical health.

When we interact with pets, the production of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine can increase. These are the “happy hormones” that keep us feeling calm and give us a sense of well-being. In addition, an influx of those hormones can lower the stress hormone cortisol, which can improve our mood even more. You might even notice lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and an easing of depression[1].

Exercise is vitally important to stay fit as we get older. Those who own dogs often get much more exercise than those who don’t, for obvious reasons – dogs must be walked! They can also help reduce anxiety and offer opportunities to interact with others.

But what about cats? Not to be outdone in the dog vs. cat wars, studies have proven that stroking a cat’s fur can lead to stress relief, lowered anxiety, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, and a feeling of well-being[2]. According to Medical News Today, owning a cat can reduce the risk of a heart attack by up to 30 percent!

As an added (and adorable) bonus, most cats tend to purr at between 1.5 and 5 Gigahertz, which is a very low frequency. It’s the same frequency used in the radiofrequency treatment of arthritis[3]. So if you happen to have arthritis and you’ve noticed that you feel better with your kitty on your lap, that’s not in your head – you really can feel better.

And finally, a ground-breaking 2009 study from the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology found that those who own cats have a lower risk of death due to stroke or heart attack[4].

What Are Some Other Benefits of Pets?

Not only do pets promote healthier lifestyles, which then lead to better outcomes for those who suffer heart attacks or strokes – or help prevent those problems altogether – those furry friends bring even more benefits to their owners:

·         Lower blood sugar. This is thanks to the better diet and exercise you experience when you have a pet around.

·         Better memory. Memory recall and retention, as well as better mental cognition, are common among those with pets.

·         Reduction of loneliness. It’s hard to feel lonely when a dog or cat is demanding your attention or showing you how much they love being in your presence.

·         Reduction of isolation. Daily walks for a dog or even a brief discussion with a delivery person about that pretty cat in your window can lead to better socialization, which in turn leads to less loneliness.

·         Focus on the present. It can be tough to stop ruminating on the past, or focusing on what the future might hold. Pets demand that you focus on them, in the here-and-now, which can improve your mental well-being.

·         More purpose. Having a pet in your life that needs you can help you feel more alive. That translates into lower levels of anxiety and depression.

·         Potential security. Dogs are well-known for their ability to alert and protect their owners from danger, but cats are no slouch in this area. Pets often sound the alarm when they notice smoke or attempted access to your home.

·         Better routines. Having a solid daily routine can help alleviate stress. Pets need routines – especially being fed at certain times – and that can make you build a routine around them.

Choosing the Right Pet

Not all pets are for everyone. The last thing you want to do is get an active, high-energy Labrador puppy for a person who isn’t super-active – that won’t work out well for anyone. Fitting the animal to the person, and vice versa, is absolutely necessary for the harmonious relationship that should ensue. But in addition, there are very practical considerations to keep in mind when choosing a pet.

·         Consider the physical abilities. As mentioned above, a very active pet isn’t great for someone who isn’t also highly active. Those who aren’t as mobile or can’t get out as much should consider a cat rather than a dog.

·         What’s the living situation? Unfortunately, some apartment complexes or assisted living facilities won’t allow pets. It might also be difficult to have a pet if you live with someone who is allergic to them.

·         Consider the costs. Between food, toys, visits to the veterinarian, vaccinations, and potential other costs for leashes, pet carriers, and even pet rent, the cost of a dog can run $2,000 per year, while a cat can be less at around $500[5].

Once those considerations are thought through, what about the pet itself?

Remember that adopting a pet can change an entire daily routine, so if you are very set in your ways, it’s probably best to ease into pet ownership. Perhaps sharing the pet with a friend, family member, or neighbor and keeping it in your home for increasing periods of time each day can help you adjust.

Consider a specially-trained dog or cat if you are dealing with any sort of medical issue that might benefit from one. For instance, epilepsy therapy dogs can spot the signs of a seizure long before you ever feel it, allowing you to get to a safe space before it hits.

Puppies and kittens are much more active than adult dogs or cats. Senior dogs or cats are often in need of a good home and unfortunately, are among the last to be picked at a shelter. But these older animals have often slowed down a bit and can be easier for older owners to handle. Before choosing any animal, older or not, make sure to get it checked out very thoroughly by a veterinarian.

The Argument for a Shelter Pet

If you are looking for a specially-trained pet, it will likely have to come from an organization that trains and sells or donates the animals. But if you are looking for a pet to simply be a wonderful companion, go with a shelter pet.

Shelter pets are cheaper than purchasing a pet from a breeder. Shelter animals, especially older ones, are often surrendered by owners who can no longer care for them, for whatever reason. Though some shelters have a no-kill pledge, many do not, which means millions of shelter animals face euthanasia each year. Adopting an animal from a shelter could be quite literally saving a life.

Besides that, the staff at animal shelters are well-versed in animal behavior. They can often tell you about an animal’s temperament and whether that particular pet would be right for you or a loved one[6]. They can walk you through the adoption process. As an added bonus, many shelters offer reduced adoption fees for those who are over the age of 55.

Whether pet ownership is in your future or not, Alert1 wishes you the best of health, happiness, and security as we enter into the summer season!