Pets are good for your health. If you know someone with a pet, especially a dog or a cat, ask them about their pet, and it is bound to make them smile.
In fact, almost one-half of all U.S. households own a dog, and one-third of U.S. households own a cat. Many doctors are beginning to realize that owning a pet is a significant part of a prescription for a happy, healthy life.
Interacting with pets is good for one’s mental and physical health. Playing with pets decreases blood pressure, anxiety, depression, stress, cholesterol, and the risk of a heart attack and stroke. Studies show that pet owners also benefit from an improved immune system.
Pets can be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to pain relief. When someone is suffering from chronic pain like arthritis or cancer, or acute pain like a migraine or healing from surgery, holding a pet reduces anxiety. The lower the stress, the less pain a person experiences.
Pets can have a profound effect on mood. People with pets seem happier and look forward to going home, where they are an instant star. Studies have also shown that holding a cat, petting a dog, or even brushing a horse can cause a release of “feel-good” hormones like endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine.
Pets are now being used to help veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome and lower suicide rates. Experts think it is because the vets feel responsible for their pets and there is “someone counting on them.” There is someone who cares deeply about them, offers tons of affection, and they don’t have to explain to their pets what they have been through.
Positive effects on children
Pets are great for kids. Children who grow up in households with pets have lower incidences of allergies and asthma. Teachers say that new readers feel more comfortable reading out-loud to their pets and encourage them to do so. Nurturing a pet is a good way for kids to learn caregiving and “parent play,” a good model for later in life, especially for boys. Feeding and caring for pets teaches children responsibility.
Cuddling a pet can soothe a child in times of stress, loneliness and anxiety. Sharing the love for pets adds an additional bond of love for siblings. Pets can also help with emotional development as children often first express themselves to pets. Kids with ADHD can benefit from pets by requiring them to focus on activities and responsibilities to care for their pets. Children with autism can often develop a unique and calming bond with a pet.
Health benefits for the elderly
For seniors living at home, pets are great to get them moving. Pets require walks that get their owners out for exercise and fresh air. It also gives owners the benefit of following a routine and schedule for feeding, walks, cleaning and play. This is especially important for seniors who live alone. It keeps them engaged. Caring for a pet decreases both loneliness and depression.
Working with pets gives all seniors a sense of purpose and feeling of being needed. Pets also provide unconditional love, which is vital. Many seniors say that owning a pet gives them a reason to wake up, a purpose, and a schedule of things to do for the day.
In care facilities, pets have the rare ability to socialize the residents. Owners love to show their pets to others. This pet showing and sharing activity is a great way to stay socially engaged with others. Studies have shown those without pets, or friends who share their pets, have a higher chance of social withdrawal and isolation.
Unfortunately, many senior care facilities do not allow pets. For many seniors, having to be placed into such a facility and being separated from their pet can be traumatic and devastating.
Fortunately, there is a new wave in senior care that recognizes the special bond and unique mental and physical health benefits pets offer their owners. More and more senior care facilities are allowing pets.
In fact, for seniors who do not have pets, they have employed a pet visitor program. Pets are brought out for regular visits. In cases where the residents can’t devote full-time attention to their pets, volunteers come in and help with the feeding, walking and grooming chores. Doctors have said they see a remarkable improvement in mood and decrease in health complaints in these residents.
Having a pet is good for our mental and physical health and has numerous demonstrated health benefits. Pets offer companionship, a motivation for living and behaving responsibly, and unconditional love. That’s all good.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He received his M.D. and Master’s Degree in Molecular Biology and Genomics from the Mayo Clinic. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the United States by Black Enterprise magazine. Dr. Crutchfield was recognized by Minnesota Medicine as one of the 100 Most Influential Healthcare Leaders in Minnesota. He is the team dermatologist for the Minnesota Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild and Lynx. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of both the American and National Medical Associations, and president of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians.