Can Pets Improve Your Health?

Pets Improve Your Health

Photo by Niels Kliim / CC BY

I have heard stories that having a pet can help improve your health. Let’s examine the science behind this claim.

My mom was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. While going through chemo and radiation was really hard, it seemed that our pets rallied around her, trying to make her feel better. Thor, our King Charles Cavalier, wouldn’t leave her side. Our cats would always scramble to get in her lap and purr. It really seemed like all of the furry critters in our house helped her get better. And she is now cancer-free. Hooray!

But can pets really help make such a thing happen? Is having a pet really one of the ways to improve your health?

The Science Behind Animals and Our Health

Having a pet actually helps your health in a lot of ways, according to the research. For starters, it improves your mood and helps with stress. How? For one, having a critter is having a whole lot of unconditional love. Your animal is almost always happy to see you! And the good feelings go both ways.

As for pain, since pets reduce both stress and anxiety, they can actually be one of the best pain killers, and research supports this: A study at Loyola University found that people who use animal therapy while recovering from an operation or surgery may need significantly less pain medication than those who do not. Other studies show they help people cope with pain from arthritis and even migraines.

But Wait. There’s A Lot More!

In addition to helping with overall mood, stress and anxiety levels, pets improve your health in other ways: they can help lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, prevent strokes and boost immunity. Interestingly, people who own pets have significantly lower cholesterol levels than those who don’t, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, it isn’t clear if the animal’s presence helps with cholesterol or if those who maintain a healthier lifestyle are more often pet owners.

While dogs are often thought of as the furry companions with the most health benefits, cat owners can see improvement, as well. If you have a feline, you are 30 percent less likely to suffer from a heart attack and 40 percent less likely to have a stroke. Those are some good percentages!

Good for Kids, Too!

Boy and His Dog Proving Pets Improve Your Health

Photo by Dan O’Leary / CC BY-NC-SA

A study found that children ages 5 to 7 from households with pets missed less school. They attend school three more weeks per school year than those who don’t have pets—possibly because one of the health benefits of having pets is a boost in their immunity. Another study shows that children who move a lot—like those in military families, for example—adjust more easily to their new homes if they have a strong connection with a favorite pet, and especially if they are involved in the daily caretaking of the animal. This study also found that pets boosted these kids’ confidence and caring traits.

So, in this case, the rumors are true! Having an animal can help mind, body and spirit.

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