Sixty-seven percent of U.S. households (85 million families) have a pet and fifty-eight percent of Canadian households report having at least one dog or cat. That translates into a lot of furry companionship!
But besides being adorable and a lot of fun, owning a pet can have a profoundly positive effect on your health, both physical and emotional. This is not surprising news to pet owners, but exactly how does having a pet make you healthier?
Here are five ways having an animal companion can affect your health:
This one is surprising, as some people are allergic to pet dander. But research shows that children who grow up with either a cat or dog in the household or who live on a farm that has large animals are less likely to develop allergies or asthma than those children who are not exposed to animals.
People over 75 should not be surprised if their insurance company or their doctor asks if they have a pet in their home. Modern medicine is recognizing that having a pet increases the chance you will exercise more and there are clear benefits from having the companionship of an animal. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease actually have fewer episodes of anxiety when a pet is present in the home and the animal’s presence also has a beneficial effect on caregivers.
Research shows that people who have suffered a heart attack and who own a pet live longer than those heart attack patients who do not have an animal in the home. And here’s good news for cat lovers: just owning a cat cuts your chances of having a heart attack or stroke by more than a third. Here kitty, kitty!
Pet owners know from experience that being around a beloved cat, dog or other animal companion is soothing and calming (at least if they are not getting into trouble!) Turns out that when you pet or stroke your dog or cat, “feel good” brain chemicals called neurotransmitters are released into the brain. If the pharmaceutical companies could bottle this, they would make a mint! Plus this has no side effects unless you count falling in love.
As the pandemic eases and people get out with their dogs (and some cats!) more often, this will come into play. Pets of any kind act as ice breakers, as it makes starting a conversation with someone natural and easy. Research shows that pet owners are much more likely to meet neighbors they didn’t know than those who did not own a pet.
Research on this one is still ongoing, but there is evidence that some dogs may be able to detect early-stage cancer in their owners simply by smell. Dogs are already used to alert owners to conditions ranging from low blood sugar to serving as an early warning for seizures. Good dog!
All kidding aside, children from families who have a dog as part of their household are absent from school less than those children whose families do not have a dog.
So what’s not to love? Adding a dog, a cat, or even a bird or other animal to the household has proven health benefits. Plus, there are so many animals that need rescuing and are up for adoption into a loving home. Do yourself, and them a big favor, and add a pet to your family!