Why Pets Are Good for Your Health

Pixabay/Gellinger

Did you ever think that having a pet could be helping you manage your pain?  Well, it can! This article will discuss the benefits of owning a pet. Not only can pets help you manage your pain, but they can benefit you in other ways.  Read more to find out the great benefits of owning a pet.

Movement

If you have read other articles on this website, you know that I promote movement.  Whether it is yoga, stretching or something else, research shows that moving your body can help you manage pain.  See my article on the benefits of exercise.  Or see my articles on how I like the two DVDs I use.   (Gentle Yoga, and Back to Life

So how does owning a pet get you moving?  

Taking care of it.  You can’t just sit and look at your pet.  Even goldfish need feeding and cleaning of the tank/bowl.  And perhaps you need to research about the care of the pet.  (Which I recommend.) Then you need to get to the pet store for supplies.  Having a pet takes planning and commitment, part of which keeps you moving.

Walking it.  The obvious pet that needs walking is a dog.  What a great pet to have to get you out and about.  And this has to be done at least twice a day, every day.  A great motivator to keep moving. So having a pet to walk just naturally increases your opportunity to exercise.  

Grooming it.  More movement.   Especially if you have to bathe the dog!  But cats need brushing too. Maintaining your pet’s appearance engages you in moving and caring.

Loving on it.  Just the simple act of stroking your pet, even a turtle, takes movement.  The tactile experience of touching another living thing raises our feelings of contentment.  Then there is playtime with your dog or cat. These times give you movement as well as laughter and joy.  

All this movement releases endorphins.  And endorphins are feel good hormones that do just that; help you feel good.  

 

Mental Health

I have an article that I wrote about Mental Health and Chronic Pain.  I suggest you read it to see how pain can impact your mental health.  

Research shows that pets can improve your mental health.  There are studies (although not a lot) that state having an animal around can reduce anxiety and increase attentiveness.  

We have all heard about pet therapy in hospitals and nursing homes.  This article about Pet Therapy Science was interesting to me because it shows that a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or cat.  

Having a pet decreases your feelings of loneliness.  Coming home to a pet makes you feel needed and even loved.  I remember a humorous article I read that a single woman wrote about her dog.  She said she loved that her dog looked longingly into her eyes and hung on her every word.  She said she hadn’t met a guy to do that! 

Pets can reduce depression, lower stress and increase your self-esteem.  Apparently stroking, grooming, touching and interacting with pets releases oxytocin, a neurochemical that calms us.  Pets increase our opportunities to socialize, especially if we are out walking our pet.  

There are programs and studies of the use of dogs in assisting schizophrenic patients.  The same is being studied in prison programs, where rescue dogs are trained to be service dogs by the inmates.  

Taking care of pets keeps you busy, engaged, and fulfills having a purpose in life.  

As our mental health is improved this leads to improved physical health.  With all the positive hormones produced by having a pet, we feel less pain and therefore feel better.  

 

Other Health Benefits

There are studies that report that having a pet can:

 

  1. Decrease blood pressure
  2. Decrease cholesterol levels
  3. Decrease triglyceride levels
  4. Sense illnesses in owners

A dog’s ability to sense illness has been studied in diabetics.  Dogs can smell changes in the breath of a diabetic and if trained to do so, can alert the human.  This link to Wikipedia discusses the ability that dogs have to detect cancer cells.  

This article from Health.com about how pets improve your health is worth reading.  

Here is a great article by the CDC (About Pets and People) that is helpful in considering the right pet.  It also outlines health and safety concerns. It serves as a thought provoking reminder to prevent you from getting the wrong pet.  

Let’s Not Forget Cuteness

Apparently we as humans are programed to love the faces of baby animals.  Their faces pull at our hearts, filling us with the urge to care for, cuddle and form attachments to them.  These feelings produce those feel good hormones again. Here’s an article about this phenomenon.  (With cute pictures!)

 

Pixabay/JACLOU-DL

 

Pet Owner Comments

 

Some comments from pet lovers (who allowed me to use their names and comments).  Just in case you thought I made all this up! 🙂

Carolyn:  The benefits of having a cat for a pet are several.  First is that you are taking care of something outside of yourself.  Petting a cat is therapeutic. They are cute and do funny things. They provide companionship and accountability.  They can make great Christmas card pictures. Being a cat owner, she says cats are less work than dogs.  

Theresa: A pet’s love is unconditional.  Everyone needs to be loved unconditionally.  Also, they are good for your physical, emotional and mental health.  Pets have a calming effect, which helps relieve stress. Dogs must be exercised, which helps our physical health.  Pets are companions, which help with feelings of loneliness and depression. They are also protective of their owners.  So many benefits.  

Bryan: So here’s a tale about my cat Mephistopheles. I went to the SPCA to rescue a cat roughly a decade ago and picking the right one can be daunting as there is never a shortage of cats needing rescue and many wind up being euthanized due to space limitations. My system was to pick a dozen or so who responded enthusiastically to my presence outside their cage and then take them individually into the “test room” to see how they behaved around me. Of many would be contenders, he was the warmest and immediately jumped up on my lap and sat down purring – the decision was clear.

Every cat owner likes the think their cat is “dog like” in behavior and isn’t skittish or mean as many can be (which I believe leads a lot of the population to have a distaste towards cats in general), but mine really is that. Sure at the end of the day he’s a cat and occasionally lets people know what is his claimed territory, but he is always welcoming to strangers and curious vice skittish. But his behavior towards others  isn’t why I’ve come to love him so much; rather it’s how he interacts with me. Prior to having him in my life I never really understood how people can be so emotionally passionate towards their pets but he opened my eyes in this regard and I’ve come to not be able to imagine life without him. His long annoying fur that gets all over everything, the litter he tracks on the freshly cleaned floor, the vomit he always prefers to leave on surfaces that are hard to clean are an insignificant price to pay for his companionship and love.

Every day when I come home from work I can hear him shouting before I even open the door and as soon as I enter it’s hard to even open the door all the way because he’s instantly rubbing against me begging for attention and won’t stop until properly pet. Every evening when I sit on the couch to relax he runs over and jumps on my lap to collapse and often fall asleep. In the darker times when life isn’t going as was ideally desired, he breathes fresh life into me and provides an easy place to find solace.

Linda: I’ve not noticed any reduction in physical pain because I have a cat but definitely better emotionally.  She’s my “family” and misses me when I’m gone.  If I leave a room for more than 5 mins, she comes to look for me.  The house would be really lonely without her.  She’s the boss, the house runs on her schedule (feeding, etc.)  She wakes me up every day at the same time and if I’m not in bed at the usual time she sits in the middle of the room and talks about it.  It’s nice to have her to take care of, she depends on me for everything and I love that I can give her her forever home.  She also makes me laugh out loud.  Her personality is goofy and she can play with a thread on the floor and ignore a purchased toy.  She’s the best fly catcher there is.  She gets bored chasing a flashlight beam after about 3 seconds.  She loves to have her ears and head scratched and would let me do that all day. I guess to sum it up, she’s the best company and I wouldn’t trade her for anything.

 

Conclusion

The conclusion we can reach is that pets have a positive influence on our lives.  They can help us feel better mentally and assist in pain management. Having a pet is a win-win scenario.

What about you?  Do you have a comment or story to add to this article?  I would love to hear from you. I enjoy hearing stories of how a pet helped you.  You would be adding to everyone’s experience by sharing. Please do so.  I wanted to add a cute/funny video of animals, but I couldn’t decide what to use.  If you have a recommendation, or one of your own, please share it!  Thanks.  

If you love to read and love animals, I still enjoy re-reading the books by James Herriot.  He has wonderful observations about people and animals. The stories will make you cry and laugh out loud.  A few of the titles are: All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Wise and Wonderful, All Things Bright and Beautiful.  I welcome your comments on these as well.  

If you want a more scientific article to read, I recommend this link from the British Psychological Society.  The article does state that research regarding all the above claims is sparse, but favorable.