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February 23, 2009 at 3:21 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

11 Ways Your Pet Loves You Back

By Katie from SLN More Blogs by This Author

Pet owners everywhere are enjoying numerous health benefits, even if they don't know it. Whether it is a cat, dog, fish, rabbit, or lizard, a pet can provide the companionship and stress relief that adds years to your life. A recent York News-Times article by Dr. Jennifer McCartney highlighted the positives of making an animal a part of your family. The benefits range from healthful, to social, to practical.

Health Benefits from Pets

Pets can actually improve the health of children and adults alike!

1. Reduce Risk of Allergies. Contrary to previous theories that indoor pets would encourage children to develop allergies and asthma, newer studies suggest that early exposure to "furred animals" helps children reduce such risks.

2. Improve Immunity. Early exposure also contributes to a stronger immune system. A few years ago, James E. Gern, M.D., a pediatrician and researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, conducted a study looking at the affects of pets on the health of babies in their first year of life. The results indicated that living with pets supported skin and immune health. "Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system," he said. Adults can enjoy these strengths all their lives, and experience improvements in other areas.

3. Decreased Stress Levels and Risk of Heart Attack. Many people with stressful jobs - and many without - struggle with high blood pressure and heart rate. This increases their risk for heart attack and disease. Pet owners tend to have higher levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters with calming effects that can decrease heart rate and blood pressure.

4. Speed Up Recovery Time. For people that have had heart attacks, the companionship of a pet can increase life expectancy and speed up recovery. Animals are also becoming a part of therapeutic settings for handicapped individuals and in doctors' offices. Horses are often used to assist disabled children in boosting their self esteem and confidence.

Social Benefits from Pets

Pets are good for social situations both inside and outside of the home.

5. Companionship at Home. In the home, the companionship they provide is irreplaceable. People living alone especially benefit from owning a dog or cat.

6. Decrease Levels of Depression and Anxiety. AIDS and Alzheimer's patients reduce the frequency of depression and anxious outbursts when they have a pet in the home.

7. Helping Us. Dogs are common companions for people with seeing, walking, and hearing difficulties. They can act as guides or "a pair of hands," and alert their owners of doorbells and fire alarms.

8. Ice Breakers Out and About. Outside the home, pets are great ice breakers and conversation pieces. People like to discuss breeds, tricks, habits, and care of their own pets and others', and can make real connections with new acquaintances just by talking about their pets.

Practical Benefits from Pets

Along with all of the pleasure that pet ownership provides, there is responsibility.

9. Lesson in Responsibility. Children often learn their first lessons in nurturing and caretaking through their pets. The structure and routine required for taking care of a pet can be very good for anyone trying to reorganize their life, such as those recovering from trauma or addiction.

10. A Sense of Importance. For the elderly, and others whose children no longer require constant attention, pets might supply a dependency that makes their owners feel needed.

11. Encourage Exercise. Dogs in particular should be taken outside for walks and exercise. This means that their owners are more likely to be outside as well, and go for regular walks or jogs.

Ask any happy pet owner, and they'll credit some of that happiness (and healthfulness) to their furry, scaly, or feathered friends. With all of the benefits of owning and caring for pets, it's hard to understand why some people still don't have any.

Photo Credit: Cecillia Brezzi

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