They give us unconditional love but ask little for little in return; a pat on the head, some kind words, a meal and a warm place to sleep. But did you know that our pets give us much more in return?
Both our physical and emotional health can benefit from having a pet around the house, from the very young to the elderly.
Our children benefit from having a pet in the family in so many ways. They teach our kids about responsibility, empathy, they encourage exercise, but you may not know that they also bring positives to our little one’s health.
Recent studies by various medical professionals suggest that for children growing up in an environment shared with ‘furred’ animals such as a dog or cat, or on a farm with larger animals, the risk of allergies and asthma may be less. It was also shown that kids living in these situations were also less likely to have eczema and other skin related conditions. Testing showed that compared to children who did not have a pet in the household, those that did, had higher levels of some immune system chemicals. In essence, the finding suggested that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system.
Emotionally they appear to be much better equipped for life’s challenges also. Children with live-in pets were less likely to miss school and were more popular with their classmates. They also had a higher self-esteem, a more positive outlook on life, were able to cope with grief, stress and loss better and were less lonely and bored.
It’s not just our children who benefit from owning a pet. As older adults our pets provide us with companionship – they are the ultimate caregivers when we are ill or sad, just by being there. They may also be a factor in not only prolonging our lives but assisting with a better quality of life. Lower blood pressure, a lessening of anxiety and an immunity boost all being significant factors.
A 20 year study in the US of almost 5000 people showed that those who had never had a pet were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack, and 30% more likely to die of any other cardiovascular disease such as stroke and heart failure! These results held true even after taking into account other risk factors such as age, gender, blood pressure and smoking.
An enjoyable activity such as playing with a dog or stroking a cat raises levels of serotonin and dopamine, nerve transmitters known to have calming properties, therefore reducing stress. Research also shows a strong attachment to a pet may be of real benefit to those people prone to depression.
These benefits also carry over into aged care, whether it be in a residential care facility or at home. Owning a pet gives a feeling of being needed, helps to maintain motor skills and has been seen to aid in quicker recover from illness and surgery with people needing less visits to the doctor or requiring ongoing medication. Pet therapy for the elderly is used at all stages of care and is seen as a boost to health and general well-being. Some previously unresponsive residents would interact with a pet even if not with their human carers.
We underestimate the true value of having a pet in our lives as they offer us benefits perhaps not considered when we go to pick out that tiny ball of fluff or decide to give a rescue animal a chance at a better life.
They may even unwittingly be excellent matchmakers. A walk in the park with your dog gives the opportunity to meet other like-minded individuals – a conversation starts, firstly comparing pets but may move on to discussing your own interests – providing social connectedness and perhaps a date!
In fact, I met my husband of 35 years because I liked his dog!
What benefits or special memories do you have because you own a pet??