Thursday, April 29, 2010

Pets Make Life Healthier

by Dr. Jane Bicks

Many of us agree that we should do everything within our power to make sure that our companion animals enjoy the best possible life. But did you know that simply by playing a role in your life, your furry kids could actually help you to be not only happier but healthier?

Of course you did. It’s all part of the privilege and fun of being a pet parent. What you may not know is that there’s plenty of science to back it up. As a holistic veterinarian, I’ve read so many reports regarding the health benefits associated with having companion animals, which has been accumulated over the last two decades, including numerous research studies in the U.S. and across the globe.

A study published in The British Journal of Health Psychology reports that people who have companion animals tended to be healthier than those who did not. Additionally, when a dog was part of the family, the human family members had fewer minor ailments, lower blood pressures and lower cholesterol levels. Although the explanation for these advantages is unclear, these researchers guessed that all benefits might be accounted for by reduced stress levels. In these cases, lower stress levels might have been due to increased physical activity (like walking the dog) and levels of social interaction (hanging out with other pet-friendly folks).

The positive effects of having a canine companion have also been published in the prestigious American Journal of Cardiology. A recent year-long study looked at the effect of having a canine companion in 369 patients who had previously suffered an acute heart attack. The positive effects were nothing short of extraordinary! The patients who had a dog in the home had a much better chance of long-term survival. Over 7% of patients without a dog died during the study, compared with only 1% of those who had a canine companion. Even though these seem like small percentages, the difference between these groups is enormously significant.

Researchers at the University of Leicester found that when pets are in a household, children six years and younger develop social skills at an accelerated rate. Additionally, these children tend to have better coordination, improved confidence, superior communication skills and are even less likely to have allergies!

The British Medical Journal concluded that companion animals serve a vital need for socialization, especially for people at a higher risk for isolation, like those who suffer from physical limitations that might prevent them from interacting socially. Most medical professionals agree that the broader the network of social contacts, the better we are able to deal with the difficult times in life. This study, and others like it, supports the idea that this need for social relations can be fulfilled equally well by companion animals as with people.

These and many other studies reinforce what we as pet parents have suspected all along … that our beloved four-footed companions play huge roles in our health and happiness as members of our families.

And now I’m going to go spend some valuable time with my wonderful, loving pets. Because, who couldn’t use a good dose of health and happiness, right?”

Dr. Jane - View Dr. Jane's Healthy Pet Foods.

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