A pet can improve your health | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A pet can improve your health

Everyone should come to know that warm, “life is good” feeling you get from cuddling with your favorite pet. It’s a relaxing feeling that reminds you that you are OK because of their unconditional love.

There have been numerous studies conducted proving the increased health benefits of having a household pet. Not only do they help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, but the animals also reduce their owners’ occurrences of minor ailments and reduce the number of more serious medical problems.

Deborah Wells, a researcher from Queens University, Belfast, is publishing her findings in the British Journal of Health Psychology.

Wells says: “It is possible that dogs can directly promote our well-being by buffering us from stress. The ownership of a dog can also lead to increases in physical activity and facilitate the development of social contacts, which may enhance physiological and psychological human health in a more indirect manner.”

Wells’ findings stem from her extensive reviews of previous studies done on the subject. She claims owning a dog is healthier than owning a cat, because dog owners seem to maintain better health over longer periods compared with cat owners.

One study showed dog owners suffered fewer colds and headaches and maintained this phenomenon for more than 10 months in contrast to a much smaller time period for cat owners.

Previous studies have shown dog owners are about 8.6 percent more likely to be alive a year after a heart attack.

Dogs also are shown to be able to sniff out malignant melanomas, as well as low sugar levels in their owners. They also can act as warning systems for epilepsy.

Other studies have shown the presence of dogs help chronically ill children cope better with painful medical procedures and can even help people with mental disorders, like schizophrenia, to stay calm and controlled.

The psychological bond between humans and animals is especially beneficial to people experiencing life changes, senior citizens and terminally ill patients. Many humane societies, veterinarians and veterinary students have set up pet-visitation programs in which volunteers from the community bring companion animals to visit nursing and retirement homes and hospitals.

The presence of animals in these institutional settings causes patients to become more alert, to smile and talk more, to reach out to people and to experience more symptoms of overall well-being.

“Humans have a very real need for the type of companionship that only animals can provide; this becomes immediately obvious when you see how attitudes change and faces light up with smiles when puppies or kittens are introduced into seniors’ residences and hospitals,” Wells said.

Pets keep their owners in shape – physically, mentally and psychologically. It is the pet owner’s responsibility to return the favor. To build a better human-animal bond and improve the quality of your pet’s life, see your veterinarian regularly.

In loving memory of Xena, “the best dog ever”: March 6, 1997-Feb. 5, 2008.

– Rhonda Beckham is a nationally certified personal trainer, with teaching certificates in Pilates and kickboxing.

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