Saturday, July 24, 2010

Love a Dog (or Cat). It's Good for You

Pet Love Defends Against Depression
Those with beloved pets will tell you how much it picks them up at the end of a bad day to see that furry face waiting at the door.

Anything relaxing or enjoyable helps boost endorphins and other mood-boosting neurochemicals. It also lowers stress chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine that can interfere with sleep and create patterns of negative thinking and depression.

Studies have shown that pet owners with terminal diseases are less likely to suffer from depression. This is particularly true of those who have a close bond with their pets.

Pets Lower Incidence of Allergies and Asthma
Contrary to expectations, pet owners actually have less allergies and asthma than people who are not exposed to animal fur and dander. Research conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that infants raised in a dog-owning house from birth had fewer allergies and eczema by the time they were a year old than newborns who came home to a pet-free household.

Infants who were exposed to dogs showed 19% incidence of allergies, while 33% of the pet-free children had allergies at one year of age. Infants with dogs also had higher levels of certain immune system chemicals.

Pets Improve Heart Health
A Queen's University (Belfast) study shows that heart attack patients who own dogs are 8.6% more likely to be alive a year after a heart attack than those who do not own a pet. Cat owners are statistically more likely to survive ten years after a heart attack than people who live without pets.

The same study says that pet owners are less likely to get ordinary sicknesses like the flu and tend to have lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Men who own pets, in particular, have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels – key indicators for heart disease – than men who don't have any pets.

Another study, done at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, reports that cat owners are 30% less likely to experience heart attack.

For heart failure patients, even a 12-minute visit with a dog noticeably improved heart and lung function.

Alzheimer's and Schizophrenia
Pets, particularly dogs, are often recommended for their therapeutic benefit to people suffering from schizophrenia. Studies have shown that pet-owning Alzheimer's patients "have fewer anxious outburts" (Davis).

Some insurance companies even ask elderly patients whether they have a pet – and lower their premiums if they do.

Pets and Exercise
Last, but not least, pets give their owner plenty of exercise. Since most modern diseases are linked to a combination of dietary factors and lack of exercise, a daily walk with Fido can be hugely significant in improving your health and lowering risks factors for almost every disease.

The health benefit of owning pets isn't a reason, in and of itself, to get one – if you're not prepared for the time and the financial responsibility of owning a pet, don't bother. But for those who already love and cherish animal friends, it's just one more reason to appreciate all they give.

Davis, Jeanie Lerche, "5 Ways Pets Can Improve Your Health,", accessed March 5, 2009.

Hodai, Beau, "Study: Dogs improve health of their human companions,", January 23, 2007.

Mundell, E.J., "Cats Help Shield Owners From Heart Attack,", February 21, 2008.

Of Further Interest:
Buying a Pet for an Elderly Person Means Extra Caregiver Duties
Giving an elderly person the gift of a pet is a thoughtful act. Consider what kind of pet would suit the older person and any extra work for the caregiver.

Read more at Suite101: Studies Show Pets Improve Your Health: Cats, Dogs, Other Animals Boost Owner's Immune System, Mood and More

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