Our Doctor Writes
The power of pets
A few evenings ago I was laughing at my cat and dog playing together. The dog was muddy after our invigorating afternoon walk with friends and the cat was lovingly licking the dog's face one moment and then taking a swipe at her nose with his claws the next.
Making us laugh, socialise and take exercise are not the only health benefits of having a pet. Here are a few more with evidence to support them of course. On an emotional level, owning a pet can decrease depression, stress and anxiety.
In 2002 researchers found that when conducting a stressful task, people experienced less stress when their pets were with them than if they were with a spouse or other relative. They were less harried and had more laughter in their life. Children who grow up in a household with pets benefit in their emotional development.
An attachment to a pet enables a child to learn to express themselves in more ways and they learn to relate better. For children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), taking care of a pet can encourage them to focus on responsibilities through a predictable routine.
The sensory experience of holding and petting an animal can be soothing for children with autism. At the opposite end of the age spectrum, studies have shown that people living with Alzheimer's have fewer anxious outbursts if there is a pet in the home. Their carers are also more relaxed and happy. As a consequence of these emotional benefits, pets are increasingly being used in therapy.
Pets As Therapy is a charitable organisation where volunteers share their time and their pets with people in need. They visit residential and nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, special needs schools, day centres and prisons. If you and your pet would like to volunteer or you would like to organise a visit from a volunteer then have a look at their website www.petsastherapy.org.
More specifically, pets are being used to help soldiers recover from post traumatic stress disorder and in rehabilitation from addiction.
Pets ease chronic pain. One study found that pet therapy reduced the amount of pain medication in people recovering from surgery.
Pets are good for your heart. Lots of studies have shown that having a pet lowers your blood pressure and cholesterol thereby reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke. If you have a cat you are 30% less likely to have a heart attack and 40% less likely to have a stroke! Life expectancy following a heart attack is improved and you are significantly more likely to be alive a year later if you have a dog.
Pets prevent allergies, reduce eczema and asthma in children and boosts immunity in all ages. Studies have confirmed higher levels of immune chemicals in the blood of children living with furry animals indicating stronger immune system activation. One study showed that children growing up with a pet attended school 3 weeks more per year than those who did not have a pet.
Pet owners, especial dog owners, are more socially engaged, confident and dog owners who are single have a better chance of getting a date walking their dog than by joining an internet dating site!
So think about getting pet, even if it is only a goldfish. I have three called Splish, Splash and Splosh.
Be well, best wishes
Dr Angela Paddon.