9 Ways a Pet Can Make You Healthy

By Ann Sullivan

Have you ever been in a bad mood, until your pet comes up to you? Experts say spending time with your dog, cat, or other beloved pet, can have a beneficial impact on your mood and overall wellbeing. Pets can calm us down and help us forget our troubles. A meaningful relationship with your furry or feathered family member can be a great source of amusement and joy. Most pets can pick up on what their owners are feeling. Many respond in various ways, from nudging you to pet them, to doing something funny to turn your mood around. No matter what kind of pet you have, animals can make us feel wanted and connected to something special.

1) Social Interaction

Dogs, especially, are a great way to meet other people. Often, it’s easy to start a conversation with a total stranger when your dog is the focus of the initial exchange. If you were sitting in the park, or walking down the street by yourself, for example, you may not be inclined to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Your dog, however, is a great way to make a connection with another human being. Oftentimes, a dog will either get the attention of the stranger walking by, or vice versa. It’s easy to engage a person in conversation when you have a mutual interest. If someone comes up to you and says, “Your dog is so cute!” – you’ve automatically found a point of common interest, and therefore, a way to engage this person in pleasant conversation.

2) Companionship

Pets are great company and a wonderful source to fend off loneliness. Especially if you live alone, or are often by yourself, having a pet by your side is a great way to feel the support of another being. If you are bonded with your pet, often they will solicit your attention and may want to be included in whatever you are doing. This can be a great source of joy and, oftentimes, fun. Having your pet by your side can keep you from feeling isolated. Experts say it only takes a few minutes of being with your pet to improve your mood. Whether it’s your cat purring, your dog running around at the excitement of seeing you, your bird whistling, or watching fish swim in their tank, pets bring joy which lowers the stress hormone, cortisol, and increases serotonin, the “feel good” chemical in your brain.

3) Gets you Exercising

This is especially true for dogs, though other pets, such as cats or birds who are active can get us moving as well. If you have a dog, for example, you will surely be going outside on a regular basis. Walking your dog, or even playing catch in the yard, for as little as a total of 30 minutes per day is a great way to stay in shape. Most dogs require regular exercise. Joining them in this joyful pursuit will help you stay in better shape too. Whether you’re going for a walk, running in the park, swimming, or just playing around in the yard, a dog is a great source to keep you active. If you get into a regular routine of exercising with your furry companion, you’ll benefit from the activity, as well as the joy your wooly friend will be experiencing with you.

4) Relieves Stress

Studies have shown pets can help relieve anxiety and stress in humans. Interacting with a pet, or simply allowing them to amuse you with their playful antics, can increase levels of stress reducing hormones. At the same time, the production of stress producing hormones decreases as well. The reduction of stress aids in our overall wellbeing. Sometimes, just observing pets can bring stress levels down. This is one reason why doctor and dental offices often have a fish tank in the waiting area. Simply sitting and watching the beautiful fish swim around can automatically reduce anxiety, and therefore stress levels. Petting a cat or dog, or just sitting and watching them can be very relaxing. Often the pet will solicit your attention, and therefore, take your mind off your worries. More than likely, your pet will enjoy the interaction and therapeutic benefits of being petted and massaged too.

5) Reduces Risk of CVD

In 2013, The American Heart Association recruited a team of specialists to study the effects of pets on heart health. Their scientific findings were released in an official statement and revealed pets, primarily cats and dogs, do in fact have a positive influence on cardiovascular health. It wasn’t clear if the reason was because people who have dogs, for example, were more likely to engage in physical activity, or the fact that pets naturally reduce stress hormones and therefore decrease CVD risk factors. Numerous studies also reportedly found that dog and cat owners had a reduced overall risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as improvement in CVD symptoms and “improved survival after an acute coronary syndrome.” The expert conclusions aren’t exactly certain why these improvements occur, but they do attribute them to a diminished sympathetic response to stress, and an overall better sense of wellbeing.

6) Boost Allergy Immunity

Recent reports about pets and children have turned the tide on the old way of thinking that having a pet around an infant was bad for the child’s health. New studies have indicated children who grow up with furry pets – whether it be cats, dogs or farm animals – are less likely to develop asthma and allergies due to the building up of the immune system by exposure to dirt and germs at an early age. WebMD reports on a study conducted by University of Wisconsin pediatric researcher James E. Gern, M.D., citing a report in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. In his study, Gern analyzed the blood of infants just after birth and at one year of age. His results concluded infants who were exposed to dogs in the home were less likely to develop pet allergies or eczema, and had signs of stronger immune system activation.

7) Makes you Laugh

There’s a reason why there are numerous television programs on the humorous antics of our furry friends. Many pets do, in fact, have a sense of humor. Whether intentional or not, our pets can do some hysterical things which, in turn, may cause us to roar with laughter. Laughter reduces stress and releases endorphins which diminishes tension and therefore anxiety and the ill effects that go with it. Some pets, upon getting this type of positive feedback and attention, will often repeat their funny antic to get the same positive response from their audience – namely their family members. It’s a long well-known fact that “laughter is the best medicine,” and can aid in the body’s ability to heal itself. So, if you find your pet doing something amusing, it may very well be the best healing remedy you have in your home.

8) Ease Physical Pain Symptoms

Animal companionship can aid in comfort and ease the symptoms of chronic physical pain along with the emotional strain and stress associated with it. This happens in several ways. Simply petting your cat or dog can produce elevated levels serotonin in the brain, which causes feelings of joy and serenity. While this relaxes the mind and body, it also aids in releasing the state of tension that most of us find ourselves in during chronic pain symptoms. Having an active pet also causes us to get up and move. Joint stiffness and muscle spasms can become worse during inactivity. Animals also have a way of knowing when their human companion isn’t feeling well. Often they will nudge you to pet them or just be there at your side as a source of comfort. The comfort of having your furry pal by your side can increase overall feelings of wellness.

9) Alerts to Health Changes

The more we get to know them, the more our pets continue to amaze us. Sometimes, these traits and talents can come as a complete surprise. Subtle changes in a human’s body chemistry can be detected by a pet who, by nature, has a sense of smell many times stronger than ours. By design, a dog or cat can smell the scent of food or prey from great distances. Up close, their sense does not diminish. Changes in their human companion’s body chemistry could very well cause the pet to investigate by “sniffing it out.” A dog or cat may go so far as to put their nose directly on the point or source of your illness. With their extraordinary senses, and knowing what your normal chemistry smells like, they can detect changes and; therefore, alert you to something as severe as cancer or as small as a paper cut.

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