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The Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Written by: Dr. Saira Kassam, ND

To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden where doing nothing was not boring – it was peace” – Milan Kundera.  February 20th marked National Love Your Pet Day for all pet owners and non-owners! It is a great day to appreciate the relationship you share with your pet/s and embrace the positive energy they bring into your lives. 

 

It has been estimated that 50% of Canadian households and 60% of American households own at least 1 pet.  Interacting with pets can positively affect both physical and emotional health through offering companionship, a feeling of responsibility and extra exercise. In fact, many nursing homes and retirement residences have programs that encourage interaction with pets. The value of pet ownership and animal-assisted therapy (AAT) for autism spectrum symptoms and behavioural problems is also becoming quite useful. AAT is a type of therapy that involves animals as a form of treatment. The rise of animal therapy is backed up by science showing that animals can provide social and emotional support, which has proven to be a successful intervention for anxiety and loneliness.

 

What can pets do for us physically?

Physically, pets encourage us to stay active and make healthier choices. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), studies have shown that the bond between pet owners and pets can increase fitness, lower stress levels and improve mood. Some of the physical health benefits of owning a pet include:

  • Decreased Blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Decreased triglycerides
  • Decreased feelings of loneliness
  • Increased opportunities to exercise
  • Increased amount of time spent outdoors

A Swedish study published in February of this year found that dog ownership was associated with a significantly lower all-cause mortality from Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). The belief is that owning a dog reduces the risk of CVD by increasing physical activity. Another study found that dog walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer doctor visits and more frequent exercise. Considering how the CDC recommends that adults of all ages engage in >150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, having a pet can ensure you get this physical activity. This is extremely beneficial for adults >60 years of age since walking is a form of physical activity that is self-paced, low impact and does not require any equipment and improves lower limb strength. 

 

What can pets do for us mentally?

People don’t just own pets for physical health reasons but also for companionship and support. Pets can enhance feelings of happiness and security. Having a furry animal around can reduce feelings of loneliness, reduce stress and feeling isolated from those around you. They provide excellent support in times of need. For the elderly population, it reduces the sense of social isolation and depression. It is known to decrease cortisol, increase endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine, otherwise known as your “happy hormones”

It is clear that non-human companionship has beneficial effects on human health. Ownership of pets, especially dogs can be beneficial to us through its effects on both physical and emotional health. Unfortunately, most of the research is focused on dogs, little is known about cats and other animals. To celebrate your pet, bring them a special treat, take them an extra long walk and make sure they know they are loved. We carry many products for pet health, check out our pet bank! #NationalLoveYourPetDay