Why that furry friend helps your health
By Lauren Paulsen, Senior Columnist
After a long day at work or school, isn’t it wonderful to come home to someone that is excited to see you? Fifty-seven per cent of Canadian households keep pets, but why isn’t that number higher?
Countless studies have been done to determine how pets affect our health, and time and time again, it has been proven that pets actually benefit our health. Having a chronic illness, I must agree that keeping pets has enriched my life. But what are the health benefits?
People who look after pets, particularly dogs, are more physically fit than those who don’t. Walking your dog, playing with your cat, and cleaning a cage are all things that get us up and moving.
People with pets are also far less likely to suffer from depression, especially for those who live alone. The companionship of an animal prevents us from feeling isolated or lonely, and caring for them helps us feel needed and wanted. Keeping pets can also help reduce anxiety problems and build confidence in those who lack it.
It has been found that in stressful situations, people who have pets have lower blood pressure than those who don’t. People who are stressed have a buildup of chemicals that can negatively affect their immune system and create plaque buildup in arteries, potentially leading to heart disease. Playing with a pet can elevate dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain—both nerve transmitters that have been known to have calming and pleasurable properties. There are many people out there who take drugs to artificially raise these levels when doing something as simple as petting a dog can do the same thing and is far less harmful to the body.
People with dogs gain the most health benefits, but doing something as simple as watching a fish swim around in a tank can help reduce muscle tension and lower one’s heart rate. The rhythmic movements are mesmerizing and can keep the mind busy for quite some time.
Another benefit pets can give us is meeting new people. Pets are great conversation starters for those who are shy and aren’t comfortable with small talk. People out for walks with their dogs are more likely to stop and chat with another dog owner than two people who are out by themselves. Pet stores, clubs, training classes, and parks also make for great places to meet other pet enthusiasts.
Not only does owning a pet help adults, but it can help a child learn responsibility and empathy towards animals. It’s my personal belief that every child should have a pet while growing up. Whether you fancy furred, feathered, or scaled, having a pet will help improve your health in so many ways.