pet-cat-and-dog-pals
Pet Cat and Dog Pals

Nothing compares to the joy of coming home to a loving and a loyal companion. The unconditional love of a pet can do more than keep you company. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) 2018 “Power of Pets” research, pets can also decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills.  The Benefits In Having A Pet are limitless and amazingly wonderful!

Wikipedia describes “pet” as,

a pet, or companion, is an animal kept primarily for a person’s company, protection, or entertainment rather than working animals, livestock, or laboratory animals.  Popular pets are often noted for their attractive appearance, intelligence, energy and playfulness, and relatable personalities.

For more information from Wikipedia on pet, read this.

Healthy Heart

Dogs don’t just fill your heart, they actually make it healthier. The American Heart Association, in a 2013 “Pet Owners and Cardiovascular Risk” study, addressed how beneficial animals are to heart health in several studies: having a A pet companion is linked to lower blood pressure, and Can Your Pet Help You Be Healthier?

A recent 2019 “Can Your Pet Help You Be Healthier?” study the American Heart Association  showed dog ownership was associated with a 33 percent lower risk of early death for heart attack survivors living alone and 27 percent reduced risk of early death for stroke survivors living alone, compared to people who did not own a dog. Dog ownership was associated with a 24 percent reduced risk of all-cause mortality and a 31 percent lower risk of death by heart attack or stroke compared to non-owners.

Per a 2019 Mayo Clinic “Your Heart’s Best Friend” study owning a pet may help maintain a healthy heart, especially if that pet is a dog, according to a new analysis. The study examines the association of pet ownership, specifically dog ownership, with cardiovascular disease risk factors and cardiovascular health.

The studies showed reduced cholesterol, and decreased triglyceride levels, particularly in stressful situation, which contribute to better overall cardiovascular health and fewer heart attacks. Just as important, dog owners who do have heart attacks have better survival rates following the events. The National Center For Health Research (CDC) also weighed in on the amazing health benefits pets provide humans. Quoting the CDC “Benefits of Pets For Human Health”:

pet-healthy-heart
Pet Healthy Heart

Studies have found that people who have a pet have healthier hearts, stay home sick less often, make fewer visits to the doctor, get more exercise, and are less depressed. Pets may also have a significant impact on allergies, asthma, social support, and social interactions with other people.

Interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, a harmful stress-related hormone, which immediately reduces stress and lowers blood pressure significantly.

One 2018 Social Development (NIH) study found this to be particularly true in children by lowering the stress hormone cortisol, when in the presence of their pets. People with a dog or cat present, had lower resting heart rates and blood pressure measures, while under stress, than non-pet owners.

According to a 2019 University of York “Animal-Assisted Interventions Positive For People’s Health” study found healthcare settings such as acute inpatient wards, rehabilitation and psychiatric units, hospices, and dementia care homes open their doors to animals and their handlers every day, aiming to improve patient wellbeing. Scientific studies have reported promising findings for a range of psychosocial, emotional, and physiological outcomes when animal-assisted interventions have been used.

For example, evidence such as a 2014 Current Gerontology and Geriatrics (NIH) study suggests that weekly animal-assisted activities with dogs, such as stroking, playing with, and talking to or about the dog, can have positive effects on the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia in older patients. However, the scientific evidence related to animal-assisted interventions in healthcare is overall limited, which poses a potential problem in view of expanding practice.

owner-and-dog-healthy-exercise
Owner and Dog Healthy Exercise

People with a dog or cat were also less likely to have spikes in heart rates and blood pressure while in a stressful situation, and their heart rates and blood pressure returned to normal quicker, determined a 2012 Frontiers In Psychology (NIH) study.

The NIH concluded after it’s review of one 2016 Cardiovascular Risk Report study, in over 500,000 participants, what has been seen repeatedly in public health, pet ownership is associated with improved quality of life through social support, reduced depression, and other psychosocial predictors of health. Perhaps, said the NIH,

The question is not whether to get a pet or not, but how to make pets more available to those with financial or housing limitations.

Physically Active

Health experts recommend that adults get about 150 minutes, thirty minutes a day, five days a week, worth of moderate exercise, especially, if pets are involved.  According to a 2009 Kansas State University “Vet Says Owners Should Exercise With Their Dogs Based On Specific Needs To Prevent Obesity” study people and their dogs both need physical activity to fight obesity, and there are many exercises that owner and pet can do together that can improve their health and their relationship.  Dogs, like people, reap many benefits from exercise, according to one veterinarian, who adds there are physical and mental health advantages for the dog owner and the dog when they exercise together.

According to a 2009 University of Missouri-Columbia “A Pet In Your Life Keeps The Doctor Away” study pet owning lowers blood pressure, encourages exercise, improves psychological health, and although these may sound like the effects of a miracle drug, but they are actually among the benefits of owning a four-legged, furry pet. Dog owners are much more likely to hit their goal.

Most people love to be outside to walk their dog, and be with their dog, and it also encourages the dog owner to be more physically active and also lose weight, according to the Heart Foundation 2018 “The Health Benefits of Having a Dog” study.  In turn, that activity helps older individuals remain mobile into their seventies and eighties. Earlier this year, a 2008 Tanfondline study published in the Journal of Gerontological Social Work, found that older adults who walked dogs experienced lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.

owners-and-pets-healthy-meeting
Owners and Pets Healthy Meeting

Drop Some Pounds

Need to drop a few pounds? Grab Rosko and get walking. Research has repeatedly found that daily dog walks help you lose weight, since they force you to into moderate physical activity for ten, twenty, and even thirty minutes at a time.

In fact, the NIH conducted a cross-sectional survey in a 2008 American Journal of Public Health of 1813 dog owners and their dogs positive influence on physical activity, and found that although only 23 percent of the dog owners walked their dogs 5 or more times per week, the adjusted odds of achieving sufficient physical activity and walking were 57 to 77 percent higher among dog owners compared with those not owning dogs.

In 2018, one small Heart Foundation study discovered public housing residents who walked “loaner” dogs five times a week, lost an average of 14.4 pounds over the course of a year. The best part is, participants considered it a responsibility to the dog, rather than exercise, because they took the position that the loner dogs needed them to walk them.

Another “Pet Dogs Could Help Older Owners Be More Active” study published in the Journal of BMC Public Health, found that dog owners aged 65 and over spent on average an additional 22 minutes walking, taking an extra 2,760 steps per day when compared to people who didn’t own a dog. The results showed that just the additional walking may be enough to meet the WHO’s 150 minutes a week minimum requirement for moderate physical activity.

Bond Between Dogs and Their Owners

dog's-day-in-the-pool
Dog’s Day In The Pool

People have an innate need to establish close relationships with other people. But this natural bonding behavior is not confined to humans. Many animals also seem to need relationships with others of their kind. For domesticated animals the situation is even more complex and pets may enter deep relationships not only with conspecifics but also with their owners, and may even suffer separation anxiety when separated from their owners, as this 2006 Elsevier study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior study confirmed.

Scientists, like this 2013 Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien “Are Dogs ‘Kids?’ Owner-Dog Relationships Share Striking Similarities To Parent-Child Relationships” study have investigated the bons between dogs and their owners

The study determined that there are striking similarities to the parent-child relationship bonding found in humans, reflecting that adult dogs behave towards their caregivers like human children do.  Reinforcing the bonding relationship between owners and pets, a new 2018 Oregon State University “Human Encouragement Might Influence How Dogs Solve Problems” study sheds light on how people influence animal behavior. Researchers evaluated the behavior of search and rescue dogs and pet dogs when presented with the same problem-solving task.

According to the study both sets of dogs persisted at the task for about the same proportion of time, but the search and rescue dogs were more successful at solving the task when encouraged by their owners. The tendency of dogs to seek contact with their owners and bonding is associated with genetic variations in sensitivity for the hormone oxytocin, according to a new 2017 Linköping University “Dogs’ Social Skills Linked To Oxytocin Sensitivity” study. The results contribute to our knowledge of how dogs have changed during their development from wolf to household pet.

Social Connection

As we age, it becomes harder to get out and meet new people. Not so for dog owners. Researchers, like a 2015 PLOS|ONE (NIH) study have found that about 40 percent dog owners make friends more easily, possibly because the vast majority, four in five, according to one British study, speak with other dog owners during walks. It’s been documented that dog owners in particular, tend to be a little more outgoing.

golden-retriever-puppy
Golden Retriever-Puppy

When dog owners begin talking about their companion animal, everyone tends to open up and really enjoy themselves, including the dogs.  They want to share stories about their favorite, loyal friend.

Whether you make your kids take turns walking the dog or it’s always your job to feed the cat, research has proven having a pet is good for the whole family. Pets can be a very important bridge between family members because of that common denominator, the pet.  Research has shown, like this 2017 University of Cambridge “Pets — Not Siblings — Are Child’s Best Friends, Researchers Find” study, children get more satisfaction from relationships with their pets than with their brothers or sisters. Children also appear to get on even better with their animal companions than with siblings. Quoting the research:

The social support that adolescents receive from pets may well support psychological well-being later in life but there is still more to learn about the long term impact of pets on children’s development.

Often grandchildren have a hard time communicating to a grandparent, so pets can be a natural bridge, providing a convenient and easy topic of conversation. Dogs and other pets play an important role in individuals’ social lives, and they can act as catalysts for social interaction, previous research has shown. Although much media attention has focused on how dogs can improve the social skills of children with autism, a researcher in a 2014 University of Missouri Columbia “Children With Autism Who Live With Pets Are More Assertive” study recently found that children with autism have stronger social skills when any kind of pet lived in the home.

Additionally, children often have their first death experience through a pet’s death, which is traumatic and a teachable moment about life and death, and according to research 2015 Tanfondline study published in the Journal of Environmental Education Research, found that even years after the pet’s death, some children still described the loss as “the worst day of their lives”.  Pets can provide the ultimate learning experience, because kids learn how to treat others with kindness and caring, because they encourage taking on responsibility for their care.

Less Stress and Anxiety

healthy-benefits-owner-with-best-pal
Healthy Benefits Owner With Best Pal

There’s a reason therapy dogs are so very effective.  Spending just afew minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals in the brain, that play big roles in you reaching a calming and well being state. Just 10 minutes of interacting with cats and dogs produced a significant reduction in students’ cortisol, a major stress hormone found a 2019 Washington State University “Stress Reduction Benefits From Petting Dogs, Cats” study.

People performing stressful tasks get better results when there’s a dog around, too, and studies, like this 2012 Frontiers In Psychology (NIH) review, show service dogs ease tension where ever they are, whether at the office, or, between married couples.  Animals can serve as a source of comfort and support.

Pet dogs provide valuable social support for kids when they’re stressed, according to a 2017 University of Florida “Pet Dogs Help Kids Feel Less Stressed” study by researchers, who were among the first to document stress-buffering effects of pets for children.
Therapy dogs are especially good at this.

They’re sometimes brought into hospitals or nursing homes to help reduce patients’ stress and anxiety, according to a 2017 PLOS|ONE (NIH) study.  Dogs have a way of being in the moment, and very much present.  Quoting a 2018 NIH “Power of Pets” study:

If someone is struggling with a concern or problem, they know how to sit there and be loving and attentive, focusing on the person the whole time.

Findings suggest that the social support a pet provides can make a person feel more relaxed and decrease stress and anxiety.

More Meaning and Purpose

As we grow older, especially after we retire, it can be difficult to find structure and meaning in everyday life. Dogs take care of that.

They force people to continue to be active and do constructive things,

says Kristi Littrell, Adoption Manager at  Best Friends Animal Society, in Utah.

senior-man-with-his-pets
Senior Man With His Pets

So, even if you’re not feeling well emotionally or physically, the dog doesn’t think much of it.  I mean, of course they care, but they still want you to feed them and take them for a walk.

Pets help older adults cope with health issues according to a 2019 Michigan Medicine and national poll finding three-quarters of pet owners aged 50 to 80 say their animals reduce their stress and give them a sense of purpose, getting them active and connecting with others.  Dogs help prevent unhealthy loneliness and isolation particularly in older women, according to the 2014 BMC Geriatrics (NIH) study, which is key in staving off cognitive decline and disease.

Just another one of the Benefits In Having A Pet.  Taking care of a pet helps you to not just focus on just your needs.  It gives you a reason to really get up in the morning and feel needed, because you know you need to get up and take care of your loyal friend, which makes you feel good.  Animal expert Karen Winegar sums it up beautifully:

The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can.

Dogs may also aid in a teaching setting.  One 2016 Journal of Attention Disorder (NCBI) study found that dogs can help children with ADHD focus their attention.

Researchers enrolled two groups of children diagnosed with ADHD into twelve-week group therapy sessions. The first group of kids read to a therapy dog once a week for thirty minutes. The second group read to puppets that looked like dogs.  Kids who read to the real animals, showed better social skills and more sharing, cooperation, and volunteering. They also had fewer behavioral problems. Here’s a quote from the NCBI study Canine-Assisted Therapy For Children With ADHD.

parents reported improvements in children’s social skills, pro-social behaviors, and problematic behaviors.

owner-and-dog-giving-affectionate-lick
Owner and Dog Giving Affectionate Lick

Pets are completely non-judgmental, don’t have any motives, take you as you are, and they really don’t care what you look like or what your plans are, because they are “in”, regardless of what the activity is, as long as they are with you.

Dogs love unconditionally, and that enhances your self-esteem, found a 2011 American Psychological Association (APA) PsychNet “Friends With Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership” study.  Your confidence can be improved by the fact that dogs love you no matter what, and to the same extent, cats are very loving to their owners too.  One little saying that’s always in the back of this writer’s mind is,

Lord, please help me be the person my dog thinks I am…..

If you are a dog owner, that hits really home, doesn’t it? It’s a lot to live up too!

Research published in various journals have found that pet owners have higher self-esteem, as well as, feelings of belonging and meaningful existence than those that didn’t own a pet. One 2017 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (NIH) study found that pet ownership may be beneficial to child and adolescent emotional, cognitive, behavioral, educational and social development.

Furthermore, when a child has no brothers or sisters, research shows that pets help children develop greater empathy, per a 2003 ResearchGate “Children with pets do not show higher empathy: A challenge to current views” study; higher self-esteem; and increased participation in social and physical activities

Ward Off Depression

healthy-dog-and-owner-relationship
Healthy Dog and Owner Relationship

It’s widely believed that dog owners are less prone to depression than none pet owners, largely because they seem to help in so many other areas of health and wellbeing.  Research has shown, like a 2010 American Journal of Orthopsychiatry (NIH) study, therapy dogs, which are animals that do not stay in your home, have been shown to be effective in easing depression for a variety of people, old and young, sick and healthy.

The foundations of healthy mindfulness, or re-centering yourself, include attention, intention, compassion, being in the moment, and awareness.   Most people have to learn how to be mindful for their own mental health and well being, pets just do it innately and naturally, and it seems to rub off on their owners.

A 2012 Cats Protection (UK) survey found that 87 percent of people, with mental health issues, who owned a cat felt it had a positive impact on their wellbeing, while 76 percent said they could cope with everyday life much better thanks to the company of their feline friends.

One 2017 JMIR Mental Health (NIH) study found pet owners living with HIV, experienced significantly less depression, providing long-term health benefits, than non-pet owners with the same health issue. Furry friends ease depression, loneliness after spousal loss as well. Researchers at the University of Florida 2019 “Furry Friends Ease Depression, Loneliness After Spousal Loss” study have found the companionship of a pet after the loss of a spouse can help reduce feelings of depression and loneliness in older adults.

Prevent Allergies

Back in the early ‘90s, experts believed having a dog in your home contributed to children’s allergies. Fortunately, recent research shows just the opposite is true.  Dogs and cats actually lower a child’s chance of becoming allergic to pets, as much as 33 percent according to a 2004 study in the “Journal Of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, because their immune system adapt and build resistance.

A 2011 “Early exposure to pets does not increase children’s risk of allergies, study finds; Evidence suggests it may actually reduce likelihood” study published in the journal of Clinical and Experimental Allergy reveals that keeping a dog or cat in the home does not increase children’s risk of becoming allergic to the pets but in all likelihood decrease the risk. In addition, studies have shown that young kids may even develop stronger immune systems by being around pets.

In the first year of life, according to research, babies who are exposed to dogs in the household are more likely not to have allergies, asthma, and fewer upper respiratory infections. When exposed at an early age to dander and allergens, we may be less reactive to them over time.  And kids who grow up around farm animals, dogs, or cats typically have stronger immune systems, according to this 2015 “Early Exposure to Dogs and Farm Animals and the Risk of Childhood Asthma” study published in the Journal of JAMA Pediatrics, and a 15 percent reduced risk of developing asthma at the age of 6 or eczema.

Relieve Chronic Pain

Having dogs, or cats, around the house can help distract from and reduce chronic pain. A 2015 “Companion-Animals’ Effectiveness in Managing Chronic Pain in Adult Community Members” survey published in the Journal of Anthrozoos of 173 adult companion dog owners, indicate that some, but not all, companion animals may be beneficial for participants with chronic pain, depending on the species and personality of the companion animal.

cat-and-owner-healthy-sleep
Cat and Owner Healthy Sleep

Petting your animal releases endorphins, the same hormones that give you pleasure, and they are also powerful pain relievers.  This has been demonstrated in studies such as a 2013 Missouri Medicine (NIH) study, where in hospitalized patients who had a visit from an animal and reported less pain simply from one animal visit. Amazingly, Loyola University Chicago researchers found that people who underwent joint replacement surgery, used less pain medication when they received prescribed pet therapy.

And one 2007 American Journal of Critical Care “Animal-Assisted Therapy in Patients Hospitalized With Heart Failure” study found that patients hospitalized for heart failure, had improved cardio functioning when visited simply by a dog. The simple task of caring for a pet can also be a positive distraction for people in pain.

Detecting Disease and Injury

It’s believed that owning a dog can help detect, treat, and manage a variety of illnesses and debilitating events.  Amazingly, certain dogs have been trained to sniff out skin, kidney, bladder, and prostate cancer, among others.

For example, a 2006 Sage Journal publication Integrative Cancer Therapies study found diagnostic accuracy of canines scent detection in early and late-stage lung, with 88 percent accuracy, and breast cancers, with 99 percent accuracy. Research has shown pets, especially dogs have the ability to sniff out changes in volatile organic compounds produced by humans due to illness like detection of ovarian cancer, according to a 2013 Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine “Penn Vet Working Dog Center Collaborating on Ovarian Cancer Detection Study”.

owner-and-pet-dog-healthy-communicating
Owner and Pet Dog healthy Communicating

Some pets are incredible, and are able to be very sensitive to their owners’ behavior, which means they can sense plummeting diabetic blood sugar levels before their owners can.

When diabetics get low blood sugar they get ketoacidosis, or sugar can’t be simulated as a fuel source, which changes the smell of their breath, and trained dogs can pick up on that scent change,

explains Christopher Buckley, director of veterinary medicine at the Human Society of West Michigan in Kalamazoo.

It’s not in the innate ability of every dog, but they can be trained to do that.

All you diabetics out there, wouldn’t it be worth owning a pet for this purpose alone, besides all the other Benefits In Having A Pet?

Natural Healing Effect.  It’s incredible, but, service dogs are known to benefit people with everything from traumatic brain injury to autism to rheumatoid arthritis, increasing mobility, promoting independence, and improving overall health. For example, dog therapy has a positive effect in the treatment of autism, including high satisfaction rates among the participants’ families, found a 2015 Advanced Mind Body Medicine (NIH) study .

One study 2009 Wiley Library study published in the Journal of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, addressed the overall effects of animals on human health and well‐being.

child-and-pet-cat-sleeping
Child and Pet Cat Sleeping

The study confirmed the relationship between animals and psychological health, focusing on the ability of dogs, cats, and other species to aid the disabled and serve as a “therapist” to those in institutional settings.