It’s officially National Pet Week. Since 1981, the first week in May is recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Auxiliary to the AVMA as a time dedicate to celebrating the more than 200 million pets in the U.S., as well as the health and wellbeing of the humans and animals across the U.S. that live together.
While we know that the bond between pets and their owners is strong, there are also many health benefits to owning a pet. According to the CDC, owning an animal can,“increase opportunities to exercise, get outside, and socialize. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels. Pets can help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship.”
Which is great news given that most households in the United States – and estimated 68% – have at least one pet.
Here are eight ways your favorite companion improves your mental and physical health:
1. Increased Physical Fitness: It could be frequent trips outside or long runs and walks with your animal, but either way, moving with a pet increases physical activity. According to research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, walking dogs has further been shown to promote engagement in and adherence to regular physical activity. And, getting exercise with your pet is free, unlike gym memberships and many organized workout groups.
2. Lower Stress & Anxiety: Whether it’s comfort, cuddles, laughter or physical activity, having a pet leads to a release in calming endorphins – oxytocin. Increased calmness can also be associated with simple activities such as watching the smooth nature of a swimming fish. Even more interesting is that in an early 2000’s study, researchers in New York found that between friends, spouses, and pets, people were less stressed while conducting difficult tasks when a pet was with them then when a friend or spouse was present. Both mental and physical metrics supported the conclusion. People who use pet therapy while recovering from surgery are also use less pain medications than those without a pet.
3. Lower Blood Pressure & Cholesterol: Having a pet is believed to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, especially for those with hypertensive or high-risk patients, according to the CDC. Interestingly, research suggests that cat owners are 30% less likely to have a heart attack and 40% less likely to have a stroke . Further, the NIH concluded based on several heart-related studies that having a pet can decrease cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglycerides, which are all contributing factors for a heart attack.
4. Improved Discipline: The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that teenagers with diabetes managed their disease better if they were put in charge of caring for a fish, than teenagers without a pet to care for. The reason for the study was that teens are a patient population known for not adhering to medical regimens. But when tasked with the discipline of keeping an animal on a feeding schedule, the teens more regularly and consistently, checked their own blood glucose levels.
5. Increased Happiness & Decreased Depression: A sense of purpose is important for human beings. As is a need to feel connected, which offsets loneliness and brings joy. By providing companionship, pets can combat depression, particularly in those who are elderly or sick. Veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress have also been found to have improve mood and health outcomes when adding a pet or service dog to their lives. Hence, veterans are encouraged to get dogs as a means of companionship as they transition back to civilian life.
6. Improved Socialization: Whether physically interacting with other people outside or engaging in a conversation about your pet, having an animal is a great way to connect with others. There are even online socializing platforms and dating sites that are now tailored to the pets you have. And, studies have found that pet owners are perceived as “friendlier” by their neighbors, likely due to the amount of engagement they have when outdoors.
7. Improved Immunity & Allergy Prevention: Research in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology contends that having a dog in infancy can improve a child’s overall immune system, as well as reduce allergies. In fact, it was found that having a pet in the home can decrease a child’s likelihood of developing allergies (related to their home) by 33%. It’s believed that the dander in pet hair might serve as a natural immunotherapy for babies and children. And that means a stronger immune system, and likely less missed days of school.
8. Childhood Development: Emotional development is vitally important for children to becoming healthy adults. And pets have proven to be beneficial to children, particularly those with developmental challenges. Children suffering from ADHD have been shown to focus more when they are in a predictable routine, which pets provide. And for children with autism, the sensory experience of petting an animal can be soothing, and they have greater social skills. So whether it’s a cat, dog, or guinea pig, animals can be great for children’s development.
Two sisters, ages ten and thirteen are kissing their cute English Bulldog on a white background
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