The Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
This post is written by Erica Moss, who is the community manager for the online Masters degree in nursing program at Georgetown University, offering one of the nation’s leading nurse midwife programs. She also enjoys photography and meeting new people.
Humans have always enjoyed emotional benefits from their relationships with animals, but in recent decades research has shown that pet ownership also provides other extraordinary benefits. From encouraging exercise to lowering blood-pressure, animal companionship promotes health in ways that range from obvious to mysterious. If you’re willing to do the work of caring for a furry friend, a dog or cat will repay you in ways you might never have expected.
1. Pets (Especially Dogs) Provide Opportunity and Encouragement to Exercise – Maintaining a regular gym schedule requires iron discipline, but who can resist the begging eyes of a puppy with a leash in his mouth? And exercise is one of the best ways of improving both physical and emotional health.
2. Pets Reduce Stress – While some humans turn up their noses at the idea of receiving social support from animals, research has shown that animal companionship is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress. The study measured stress levels when humans performed challenging tasks in the presence of a spouse, a close friend and a dog or cat. The lowest stress levels occurred in the presence of dogs and cats, probably because they were perceived as both supportive and non-judgmental.
3. Dogs Aid in Rehabilitation – Dog ownership has been shown to aid in rehabilitation from illnesses and traumatic events. By acting as “social catalysts,” dogs provoke the recently ill to interact more frequently with other people in their vicinity, alleviating the burden of loneliness and anxiety usually associated with serious illness and psychological trauma.
4. Pets Reduce Blood Pressure – A study of people with high blood pressure who live alone found that pet ownership lowers blood pressure more effectively than medication. In fact, the results of the study were so dramatic that many participants in the study bought pets immediately afterward.
5. Dogs Can Detect Cancer – It may sound unbelievable, but recent research has shown that dogs can detect some forms of cancer much more accurately than common lab tests. A dog named Marine recently proved 97 percent accurate in detectingcolorectalcancer by sniffing human stool samples, while past research has shown that dogs can also detect skin, lung, stomach, breast and ovarian cancer — and in one case, a woman whose dog continually sniffed and bit at a mole on her leg had it checked out and discovered it was a malignant melanoma!
If these five health benefits have not convinced you to go out and get yourself a puppy, nothing will. In fact, pet ownership isn’t for everyone, and for those who can’t or won’t do the work associated with caring for an animal, there is an obvious risk of increased stress levels. It is also important to note that while pet ownership can yield extraordinary health benefits, it is not a substitute for professional health care. That said, it is hard to imagine a more pleasant way to take care of yourself than owning a cat or dog!