By Nina Radcliff, MD
I recently came across a card with a Golden Retriever looking into the horizon that read: “I don’t judge others. I don’t hate. I don’t discriminate. I don’t care about money. I don’t hold grudges. I DO know how to love unconditionally and that’s all I want in return. I’m a fur-ever friend.”
It led me to wonder whoever said “It’s a dog-eat-dog world” never owned a dog. Nor have they considered that pet ownership has a number of proven physical, mental, and emotional health benefits.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need to Know: About the Health Benefits of Having a Pet.
Increased Physical Activity The benefits of walking a dog is a two-way street. Or should I say there are benefits on both ends of the leash? Nearly half of dog walkers exercise an average of 30 minutes a day at least five days a week. After a long day, we may not be up for heading to the gym or going for our run, but that wagging tail is a great motivator. Plus, the tail won’t stop until it gets what it wants.
Improved Heart Health Not only do pets fill our hearts with love, they can help our tickers, tick longer. Studies have shown that pet ownership can lead to decreased blood pressure, heart rate, stress, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels. While the reasons are not 100 percent clear, it is likely due to the psychological, sociological, and physiological benefits of pet ownership. In fact, the American Heart Association even made an official statement that “owning a dog may protect you from heart disease.”
Protection Against Allergies Exposing babies to dog and cat dander DOES NOT increase their risk for developing pet allergies. So, before you decide to get rid of your beloved four-legged family member for the arrival of a new baby, consider the scientific facts. Studies have shown that having a pet in the home can decrease our children’s risk of allergies, asthma, and eczema. This may seem counter-intuitive. However, when exposed to pet dander early in life, our immune systems build up a tolerance to the allergens and are less likely to mount an allergic response.
Empathy This trait describes our capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another person…or pet. I have real, first-hand experience with this. My 2 ½-year old daughter is head over heels over her dog. Not only is the dog’s name the first word out of her mouth in the morning; she also shares her food and select treats with her; makes sure her water bowl is always filled; and remembers to take her out for a walk (several times a day). And when her four-legged friend whines, my daughter will immediately go to hug her (and will even shed tears).
Sixth Sense Dogs can detect low blood sugar levels, the presence of allergens, and seizures—even before they happen. In one fascinating study, more than one-third of dogs that live with diabetic owners exhibit behavioral changes when their owners’ blood sugar drops. In some instances, the dogs would even nudge their owners into eating!
Depression Sometimes a pet is the best qualified to fill the void in our hearts. Pets offer an unconditional, uncomplicated love; the right dose of responsibility to add a new and positive focus in our lives; exercise; routine; companionship; increased social interaction; the benefits of physical contact with another living being; and boost “feel-good” chemicals in the brain. Some may say that there is no psychiatrist quite like a pet.
Interestingly, there are a number of therapy programs across the country which use pets in hospitals for patients of all ages as well as senior living homes. Research is showing that pets have more than just a cute face. These animals are assisting in the long-term well-being as well as improved health for patients.
On that note, here are eight animal lessons for people: (1) Enjoy the simple pleasure of a walk (2) Run and play daily (3) Be loyal, faithful, and quick to forgive (4) Always drink plenty of water (5) Sometimes it is best to sit close and listen (6) Follow your instincts (7) Accept all of life’s treats with gratitude (8) Love unconditionally.
We can all appreciate the bumper sticker that shares: Wag more, bark less.