Mental Health Benefits
Seeing Eye dogs, therapy dogs and pet therapy are not new. Dogs are being increasingly used to treat PTSD, anxiety and even to help control pain during medical procedures. However, the benefits extend beyond, into everyday life. By providing comfort and companionship, pets decrease stress, anxiety and feelings of loneliness and promote relaxation. These positive social and emotional influences can occur at all stages of life. Interacting or playing with pets can also elevate levels of, brain chemicals (serotonin, dopamine) that have pleasurable and calming effects. This explains why we feel good when we interact with our pets.
Pets are also great for promoting good social connections. As conversation starters, they can help to ease shy or socially isolated people.
Why are dogs and humans so mutually attached? Science has actually demonstrated that mutual gazing into your dog’s eyes will increase the levels of oxytocin in both of you. Oxytocin is the hormone that plays a role in maternal-infant bonding and the development of trust and selflessness.
Physical Health Benefits
Studies conducted over the last 25 years have shown many physical health benefits to pet ownership, including:
· Decrease in blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels thus reduced risk of heart disease.
· Heart attack patients who have pets do better than those patients who do not have pets.
· Walking a dog regularly promotes exercise which helps promote an active lifestyle.
· Alzheimer’s patients have fewer outbursts if there is a pet in the home.
For the most part, these benefits apply to any type of pet; cat, dog or other.
Although the benefits of having a pet far outweigh the risks, there are some risks we should to be aware of:
Fear of allergy: In the past, it was often discouraged to have pets if families were prone to allergies because of fear of allergy development. However, recent studies suggest that children growing up with furred animals (home or on a farm) have less risk of allergies and asthma.
Infection: Although germs from pets rarely spread to people, measures still need to be taken to protect yourself, your family and pet. Washing our hands and the hands of children after contact with pets, their stool, and their food is important. It is also important to get routine veterinary care for your pet and to ensure that all the required vaccinations, including rabies shots, are up-to-date.
On a final note, don’t forget about your furry friend when planning and developing your home emergency/evacuation plan and emergency kit. You should also practice evacuating your pet and have plans for sheltering during an emergency. The need for this was clearly demonstrated during the recent flooding in the United States.