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BEYOND BODY

The Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

By: Ericka PingolThe Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

The cliché “A dog is a man’s best friend” is a cliché for a reason. Having a dog or any other kind of pet in a man’s life is a learning experience where we are taught by our adorable four-legged friend the importance of life, unconditional love and support. Having a pet in one’s household also teaches us to be responsible since our pets depend on us for their food, their hygiene and their overall well-being. Furthermore, our furry friends have more health benefits to us than what we can think of!

Allergy solution

Cuddling your furry friend seems like an odd solution, but fear not! According to University of Wisconsin-Madison pediatrician James E Gern, having a pet in the home can lower you and your child’s likelihood of developing related allergies by as much as 33 percent.

In fact, his research -- as published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology -- shows that children exposed early on to animals tend to develop stronger immune systems overall. While this might not mean much for adults who are already struggling with longstanding allergies, it is good news for families in which this isn't already an established issue, but rather just a concern about what could happen down the road.

Pets fill the heart with love

Our pets give unconditional, true love. Many owners would agree that a pet can definitely fill your heart with the love that you deserve. Not only that! The presence of a pet can also improve the overall health of you heart.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have both conducted heart-related studies on people who have pets. The findings showed that pet owners exhibit decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels -- all of which can ultimately minimize their risk for having a heart attack down the road. For those who have already experienced a heart attack, research also indicates that patients with a dog or a cat tend to have better recovery rates.

Great exercise motivation

Need a little motivation in the exercise department? Dogs can act as the perfect personal trainer, if only because most of them need to be walked several times a day. According to studies like those conducted by the Wellness Institute at Northwest Memorial Hospital, as long as you're the one holding the leash, you'll reap the rewards, which can include losing -- or at least maintaining -- weight.

Beat the blues

Pets are a great way to beat the blues. Not only are they known to offer unconditional love, but they may also give their owners a sense of purpose, which can be crucial for those feeling down in the dumps.

Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and even bring you feelings of joy and happiness. This is particularly apparent among groups -- including the sick and elderly -- who may be on the receiving end of Animal-assisted Therapy (AAT) or Pet-facilitated Therapy (PFT). Many hospitals and nursing homes use these types of programs on a regular basis.

Decreases stress

In a 2002 study at State University of New York at Buffalo, researchers found that when conducting a stressful task, people experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a spouse, family member or close friend was nearby.

By spending time with our beloved pets, we are able to relax and focus on the good things, instead of channeling our energies to negative thinking.  Animals can get our minds off of our problems.

Eases Pain

Believe it or not, pets can be the best medicine, especially when a person is dealing with chronic pain such as migraines or arthritis, says Dr. Becker. "Just like Valium, it reduces anxiety. The less anxiety, the less pain," he says. One study from Loyola University found that people who use pet therapy while recovering from surgery may need significantly less pain medication than those who do not. 

Helps children develop

Children who grow up in a household with pets benefit in myriad ways, especially in their emotional development. "When a child is attached to a dog or cat, they learn to express themselves in more ways and they learn to relate better," says Landa, who brings children to animal shelters to deliver toys and food. Pets are also hugely beneficial to children suffering from autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

See, our pets are not only in our lives to be companions! They also provide health benefits as well! Having a pet around help us be in touch with our own selves and teach us to value the lives that we have. And of course, we should also show some lovin’ to our four-legged friends by showing them the care that they very much deserve!

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