Pets are good for your health, and we have the studies to prove it

  
Via:  buzz-of-the-orient  •  4 weeks ago  •  8 comments

By:   SIDNEY STEVENS

Pets are good for your health, and we have the studies to prove it

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


Pets are good for your health, and we have the studies to prove it

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Pets strengthen our hearts, calm our nerves and a whole lot more. (Photo: Kotkot32/Shutterstock)

If you have pets you already know the joy and love they bring to your life. Now science is confirming just how good they really are for you — both mentally and physically.

How do they help? One theory is that pets boost our oxytocin levels. Also known as the "bonding hormone" or "cuddle chemical," oxytocin enhances social skills, decreases blood pressure and heart rate, boosts immune function and raises tolerance for pain. It also lowers stress, anger and depression.

No surprise then that keeping regular company with a dog or cat (or another beloved beast) appears to offer all these same benefits and more. Read on to discover the many impressive ways a pet can make you healthier, happier and more resilient.

1. Pets help you live longer, healthier lives


Having a dog is associated with a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease or other causes,   according to a study   that followed 3.4 million people in Sweden. Researchers studied men and women between the ages of 40 and 80 and followed their health records (and whether they owned a dog) for about a dozen years. The study found that for people who lived alone, owning a dog can decrease their risk of death by 33% and their risk of cardiovascular-related death by 36%, compared to single people without a pet. Chances of having a heart attack were also 11% lower. A 2019 review of nearly 70 years of research found that dog ownership lowers your risk of dying from any cause by 24%. For people who've already had a stroke or heart attack, their risk drops by 31% when they have a dog. The   results were published in Circulation , the journal of the American Heart Association.

2. Pets alleviate allergies and boost immune function


One of your immune system's jobs is to identify potentially harmful substances and unleash antibodies to ward off the threat. But sometimes it overreacts and misidentifies harmless stuff as dangerous, causing an allergic reaction. Think red eyes, itchy skin, runny nose and wheezing.

You'd think that having pets might trigger allergies by kicking up sneeze-and-wheeze-inducing dander and fur. But it turns out that living with a dog or cat during the first year of life not only cuts your chances of having pet allergies in childhood and later on but also lowers your risk of asthma. A   study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology   found that newborns who live with cats have a lower risk of childhood asthma, pneumonia and bronchiolitis.

Living with a pet as a child also revs up your immune system. In fact, just a brief pet encounter can invigorate your disease-defense system. In one study, petting a dog for only 18 minutes   raised immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels   in college students' saliva, a sign of robust immune function.

There's even some new research that suggests links between the microbes pets bring into our home and the beneficial ones that live in our digestive tract. “Exposure to animal bacteria may trigger bacteria in our gut to change how they metabolize the neurotransmitters that have an impact on mood and other mental functions,” Jack Gilbert, the director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago, told   The New York Times . Gilbert is coauthor of   a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine   that found Amish children have lower rates of asthma because they grow up with livestock and the bacteria they host. Gilbert cautions that studies about how pet microbes might affect human gut bacteria is still in early stages.

3. Pets up your fitness quotient


This one applies more to dog owners. If you like   walking with your favorite canine , chances are you're fitter and trimmer than your non-dog-walking counterparts and come closer to meeting recommended physical activity levels.   One National Institutes of Health-funded study   of more than 2,000 adults found that regular dog walkers got more exercise and were less likely to be obese than those who didn't walk a dog. In another study, older dog walkers (ages 71-82) walked faster and longer than non-pooch-walkers, plus they were more mobile at home.

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Dog owners who take their canine companions on walks tend to be trimmer and fitter than their fellow dog-less peers. (Photo: AMatveev/Shutterstock)

4. Pets dial down stress


When stress comes your way, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, releasing hormones like cortisol to crank out more energy-boosting blood sugar and epinephrine to get your heart and blood pumping. All well and good for our ancestors who needed quick bursts of speed to dodge predatory saber-toothed tigers and stampeding mastodons. But when we live in a constant state of fight-or-flight from ongoing stress at work and the frenetic pace of modern life, these physical changes take their toll on our bodies, including raising our risk of heart disease and   other dangerous conditions . Contact with pets seem to counteract this   stress response   by lowering stress hormones and heart rate. They also lower anxiety and fear levels (psychological responses to stress) and   elevate feelings of calmness . Studies have found that dogs can help   ease stress and loneliness for seniors , as well as help calm   pre-exam stress for college students . One study found that   just 10 minutes of petting a dog or cat   can lower cortisol levels in college students.

5. Pets boost heart health


Pets shower us with love so it's not surprising they have a big impact on our love organ: the heart. Turns out time spent with a cherished critter is linked to better cardiovascular health, possibly due to the stress-busting effect mentioned above. Studies show that dog owners have a   lower risk of heart disease , including lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs also benefit patients who already have cardiovascular disease. They're not only four time more likely to be   alive after a year   if they own a dog, but they're also more likely to survive a heart attack. And don't worry, cat owners — feline affection confers a similar effect. One   10-year study published in Archives of Internal Medicine   found that current and former cat owners were 40% less likely to suffer a heart attack and 30% less likely to die of other cardiovascular diseases. Another new study that followed more than 1,700 people in the Czech Republic found that dog owners are more likely to have   better overall heart health . Pet owners in the study reported more physical activity, better diet and ideal blood sugar levels, but dog owners showed the greatest benefits from having a pet.

6. Make you a social — and date — magnet


Four-legged companions (particularly the canine variety that pull us out of the house for daily walks) help us make more friends and appear more approachable, trustworthy and date-worthy. In one study, people in wheelchairs who had a dog   received more smiles   and had more conversations with passersby than those without a dog. In another study, college students who were asked to watch videos of two psychotherapists (depicted once with a dog and once without) said they felt more positively toward them when they had a dog and more likely to disclose personal information. And good news for guys: research shows that women are more willing to give out their number to men with a canine buddy.

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A dog can make you appear friendlier and more approachable to others. (Photo: CandyBox Images/Shutterstock)

7. Provide a social salve for Alzheimer's patients


Just as non-human pals strengthen our social skills and connection, cats and dogs also offer furry, friendly comfort and social bonding to people suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of brain-destroying dementia. Several   canine caregiver programs   now exist to assist at-home dementia patients with day-to-day tasks, such as fetching medication, reminding them to eat and guiding them home if they've wandered off course. Many assisted-living facilities also keep resident pets or offer therapy animal visits to support and stimulate patients. Studies show creature companions can reduce behavioral issues among dementia patients by boosting their moods and raising their nutritional intake.

8. Enhance social skills in kids with autism


One in nearly 70 American kids has autism (also known as autism spectrum disorder, or ASD), a developmental disability that makes it tough to communicate and interact socially. Not surprisingly, animals can also help these kids connect better to others. One study found that youngsters with ASD talked and laughed more, whined and cried less and were more social with peers when guinea pigs were present. A multitude of   ASD animal-assisted therapy programs   have sprung up in recent years, featuring everything from dogs and dolphins to alpacas, horses and even chickens.

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Animal-assisted therapy helps kids with autism and other developmental disabilities learn social skills. (Photo:  GoodDog Autism [CC BY-ND 2.0] /Flickr)

9. Dampen depression and boost mood


Pets keep loneliness and isolation at bay and make us smile. In other words, their creature camaraderie and ability to keep us engaged in daily life (via endearing demands for food, attention and walks) are good recipes for warding off the blues and defeating loneliness. A   study by Australian researchers   found that getting a dog can lessen feelings of loneliness. It could be because cuddling with a dog boosts your mood in the short term, but also because having a dog makes you more likely to meet people.

Research is ongoing, but animal-assisted therapy is proving particularly   potent in deterring depression   and other mood disorders. Studies show that everyone from older men in a veterans hospital who were exposed to an aviary filled with songbirds to depressed college students who spent time with dogs reported feeling more positive.

10. Defeat PTSD


People haunted by trauma like combat, assault and natural disasters are particularly vulnerable to a mental health condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sure enough, studies show that the unconditional love — and oxytocin boost — of a pet can help remedy the flashbacks, emotional numbness and angry outbursts   linked to PTSD . Even better, there are now several programs that pair specially trained service dogs and cats with   veterans suffering from PTSD .

11. Fight cancer


Animal-assisted therapy helps cancer patients heal emotionally and physically. Preliminary findings of a   clinical trial   by the American Humane Association shows that therapy dogs not only erase loneliness, depression and stress in kids fighting cancer, but canines can also motivate them to eat and follow treatment recommendations better — in other words participate more actively in their own healing. Likewise, new research reveals a similar   lift in emotional well-being for adults   undergoing the physical rigors of cancer treatment. Even more astounding, dogs (with their stellar smelling skills) are now being trained to literally sniff out cancer.

12. Put the kibosh on pain


Millions live with chronic pain, but animals can soothe some of it away. In one study, 34% of patients with the pain disorder fibromyalgia reported pain relief (and a better mood and less fatigue) after visiting for 10-15 minutes with a therapy dog compared to only 4% of patients who just sat in a waiting room. In another study, those who had undergone total joint replacement surgery needed   28% less pain medication   after daily visits from a therapy dog than those who got no canine contact.

13. Lessen schizophrenia risk


Being around a dog at an early age may lessen the chance of developing schizophrenia as an adult, according to new research from Johns Hopkins University. In   the study , researchers looked at the relationship between exposure to a family dog or cat during the first 12 years of life and a later diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They found that being around a dog lowered the risk of developing schizophrenia but had no impact on bipolar disorder. They saw no immediate relationship between cats and either disorder. The researchers caution that more studies need to be done to confirm their findings.

Editor's note: This file has been updated since it was originally published in November 2015.

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Buzz of the Orient
1  seeder  Buzz of the Orient    4 weeks ago

Because I did not marry until I was 35 I spent part of my life alone, but I was happier when I had my cat - he was my buddy.  I bet a lot of you have felt the same way in similar circumstances.

 
 
 
WallyW
1.1  WallyW  replied to  Buzz of the Orient @1    4 weeks ago

Even watching pet videos can be fun and relaxing.

 
 
 
Kavika
2  Kavika     4 weeks ago

Add to that they will protect you with their lives. 

I've had dogs my whole life and can't imagine not having one. 

 
 
 
MUVA
2.1  MUVA  replied to  Kavika @2    4 weeks ago

Our last dog baby sue as we called her was such a good dog we haven't been able to get another one she died about 6 years ago now.She was a full blood trained for hunting american lab that was brought back breeder because she wouldn't hunt.

 
 
 
Enoch
3  Enoch    4 weeks ago

Dear Brother Buzz: Once at a shopping mall I saw a pet store.

When I entered I tried to pet the cashier.

They called the police.

It seemed I didn't quite understand what they were selling.

Enoch

 
 
 
Tacos!
4  Tacos!    4 weeks ago
Pets Up Your Fitness Quotient

I don’t know if that’s true for my pet. We have a basset hound, and while she does get walked every day, it’s a pretty leisurely affair.

 
 
 
charger 383
5  charger 383    4 weeks ago

My dogs make me happy

 
 
 
Perrie Halpern R.A.
6  Perrie Halpern R.A.    4 weeks ago

Nothing makes me happier than seeing Wally. Love without strings and children forever. 

 
 
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