At the behest of Leo, my Havanese pup, I list the top ten health benefits of having a pet
1. Several studies have shown that having a pet helps you get in shape. This, of course, is obvious if your pet is a dog as opposed to a June bug. You take the dog out to do its business because you get tired of him relieving himself on your pillow. The dog has an innate reflex that makes him poop like a mastodon on the neighbour’s manicured lawn and then you both end up running like the new long-haired boy in prison. This interval sprinting and laughing can help you get in shape. One study showed that new dog owners lose an average of 14 pounds in the first year.
2. Pets help people survive heart attacks. Pet owners have healthier hearts and more pleasant heart attacks than patients who don’t have a dog or cat! Those who own a dog are eight times more likely to survive one year after suffering a heart attack. One study, conducted out of a coronary care unit, found that only 6 percent of patients who owned pets died within one year compared with 28 percent of those who did not own pets. Stroking a dog, watching a kitten tumble, or observing the hypnotic explorations of fish can lower blood pressure and heart rates. Heart attacks, however, did increase in pet owners who discovered their miniature dachshund pregnant and the huge Irish Wolfhound next door with a poop eating grin on his face to go along with the grin he normally has from eating poop.
3. Pets are great for mental health between those times when they’re driving you mental. In fact, pet ownership even moderates the effects of mental illness. Patients who have pets are less depressed or anxious and show lower scores on the depression severity scale than those who do not own pets. So, if you’re feeling blue take two shitzus and call me in the morning.
4. A study out of the University of Missouri showed that within minutes of petting a dog, there is a massive release of beneficial hormones (in the petter) known to be associated with health and feelings of well being; beta endorphin, prolactin, dopamine, oxytocin, and of course good ol’ beta phenylethylamine. The release of these petting hormones not only induce a sense of pleasure and happiness but they also decrease the stress hormone, cortisol. The fish, however, were not thrilled with this study.
5. Dogs are beneficial in speech and language development. Dogs are instantly loyal and eager to please, perfect companions during the sometimes difficult speech therapy sessions. Therapeutic progress occurs more rapidly when dogs are involved. A patient’s physical anxiety goes down as measured by lower blood pressure and heart rate, and less stress almost always equals a more productive session.
6. Pets help blunt pain. By initiating and maintaining the relaxation response, a pet can distract a patient’s focus from their pain and elevate their moods. In addition, through touch or physical contact, pain transmission from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system is somewhat interrupted or blunted. So after Rover chomps on your leg, pet him.
7. Pet owners often feel needed and responsible which may actually stimulate the survival incentive. There is the feeling of the need to pull through a surgery or major illness in order to take care of their pet. Many cancer patients with pets have admitted to striving hard to live longer because they felt that their pets need them and only them.
8. Pets in the home teach empathy, responsibility and raise IQs. In fact it has been shown that dogs improve children’s reading scores. Trained teams of dogs and humans help children who have trouble reading to jump whole grade levels in just a few months in a simple program where children read to dogs. Of course that may involve a lot of words like “see” and “spot” and “run” and “get” and “off” and “ruined” and “my” and “freakin’” and “dress” repeated again and again.
9. Seniors who have pets have far fewer doctor visits and sleep better than those who don’t. Equally important for the health of seniors is having something to keep them active and to help alleviate the loneliness and listen to stories about their bowels. Spending as little as 30 minutes with a dog each week reduces feelings of loneliness in long-term care residents. And seniors with fish are excited to be out buying rods, lures and hooks.
10. To many researchers, the most exciting facet of these studies is that positive human-animal interaction may delay production of harmful body chemicals associated with diseases such as cancer. Studies indicate an improvement in body chemicals associated with a healthy immune system. Who knows, we may see a time when people at risk for certain types of illnesses including cancer may be prescribed a Chihuahua, a Siamese or a guppy.