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The many health benefits of pet ownership

Stroking the soft fur of your beloved dog or cat is soothing, but science demonstrates the vast health benefits of pet ownership reach far beyond just comfort.

The many health benefits of pet ownership

Pets can sniff cancer, alert diabetics when blood sugars are dropping, and bring focus to children with ADHD and autism, amongst many other health-related wonders.

For seven years through the SPCA/St. John’s Outreach Therapy Pet programme, I’ve been taking my fluffy, gentle Siberian Husky dog to see children in hospital. It wasn’t just to provide a sense of normalcy in a sterile environment. Over the years, while children are connected to heart and respiratory monitors, I have observed dramatic dips in breathing and heart rate after just 10 minutes of being with my therapy pet. I have witnessed children debilitated in wheelchairs rise up and walk several metres across the room to give my dog a farewell hug. There are children that didn’t have the will to get out of bed for weeks able to run to the front entry as they see my dog entering the building through their hospital window. Parents have purchased faux fur rugs to match my dog’s fur to wrap around the shoulders of their precious sick children. Children have counted the number of sleeps until they get to see her again, making it just that bit more bearable to hang on until their new heart arrived. Pets provide more than a sense of companionship and feeling of home- they motivate, inspire and most importantly, improve the health of many.

Pets enhance moods, reduce anxiety and lower stress levels. Studies show that they raise the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin in our brains, the same chemical that is raised by anti-depressant drugs. Our stress hormone, cortisol, is lowered, which saves our body from wear and tear.

Pets lower blood pressure. In a study of 240 married couples, pet owners had lower blood pressure and lower heart rates than people who didn’t own a pet under both resting and stressful situations. Another study confirms that kids with high blood pressure are able to reduce it by petting a dog.

Pets protect our hearts (literally). One study found over 20 years, people who didn’t own cats had a 40% risk of dying from heart attacks than those who did. In another study, dog owners had a markedly better survival rate one year after a heart attack. Overall, pet owners have a reduced risk of dying from any cardiac disease.

Pets prevent asthma. Ironically, cat and dog dander is one of the top triggers for asthma, but research points to the fact that early exposure to pets reduces risk of reaction. Researchers studied the effects of having cats in the homes of infants at risk for asthma. They discovered those children were significantly less likely to develop asthma as they got older with the exception of those that had mothers allergic to cats.

Pets detect diabetic sugar crashes. For diabetics, when blood sugar (glucose) suddenly drops, this can be a serious condition. The body gives off a certain scent as it goes through a chemical change when glucose begins to decline. Dogs sense this early and can alert their owners in time for the person to have a snack to avoid a glucose drama.

Pets detect cancer. Certain types of cancer give off a peculiar scent that only the heightened senses of a dog can detect. Many peoples’ lives have been saved by this early scent attention from their dogs. Dogs are now being trained specifically for cancer detection.

Pets help children with ADHD and autism feel affection and focus. When stroking the fur of pets, the intimacy hormone oxytocin increases in our bodies. The feel good affection hormone helps autistic children who are usually distant to express love and affection with pets. They can communicate more easily with a pet than other people oftentimes.

Kids with ADHD release a great amount of pent up energy with pets which means sounder sleeps at night, and the feeding and exercising routine teach them to organise and be responsible.

So, if you are into “doga” (dog and owner yoga), fancy cats, or even a fish or two, be confident in knowing the therapeutic benefits of pets may help you, too, to live a healthier life.

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