Naturopath and Holistic Health Expert
There is nothing like the love of a pet. I am a mummy of two furry kids – Casper and Maya. They fill my life with joy. If you are a pet owner you know what this bond brings. The emotional bond between owner and pet can be as intense as human bonds and may offer similar psychological benefits.
Did you know that like human bonding, pet bonding can equally elevate the levels of hormone “oxytocin”, which in turn lowers anxiety and depression and decreases your heart rate.
Pet ownership and its impact on human health have long been studied. The Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation is a non-profit research and education organisation that is gathering, funding and sharing the scientific research to demonstrate the positive health impacts of companion animals on people.
They have found that owning a pet can have significant improvements in:
1. Cardiovascular health
a. Blood pressure
b. Cholesterol levels
c. Triglyceride levels
A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that pet owners had hearts that adapted better to stressful situations than non-pet owners. Evidence reviewed by the American Heart Association indicates that dog owners are more likely to exercise, and, as a result have a better cholesterol profile and lower blood pressure. The Association also cites data that indicates that being around pets (both dogs and cats), can actually help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A similar study found that having your dog in the room lowered blood pressure better than taking a popular type of blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitor) when you are under stress. Other research has indicated that the simple act of stroking a pet can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
2. Feelings of loneliness. Pets offer companionship and support social interaction.
3. Depression. Pets offer unconditional love, a distraction and companionship supporting an individual going through depression.
4. Immunity. In a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mice exposed to dust from homes with dogs were protected against allergens known to trigger asthma. This dog-associated dust enriches the variety of gut bacteria in the mice with Lactobacillus johnsonii, a type of bacteria that protects the airway against allergens and infection by beefing up mucous membrane immunity. In previous research, homes with indoor/outdoor cats also exhibited a more diverse house dust microbiome.
5. Overall less visits to the doctor. A study on both Germany and China showed pet owners had fewer doctor visits than non-pet owners.
How do our pets improve our health?
1. Companionship. This provides shared pleasure in recreation, relaxation, and uncensored spontaneity, all of which add to the quality of life. Thus companionship may be important in fostering positive mental health on a day-to-day basis.
2. Social Support and Interaction. Social support reduces the perception of stressful events therefore protecting against anxiety related illness. It can also create confidence to better deal with stress. The social support might also encourage more social interactions with people, reducing feelings of isolation or loneliness. Taking your pet to the park has been found to increase social interaction with other pet owners. Walking your dog attracts passers by to connect with your pet and initiate conversation.
3. Exercise. Dogs in particular, give people a reason to get out and about because they need regular daily walks. Increasing physical activity increases fitness and a sense of wellness.
4. A Sense of Responsibility. Researchers suggested that a care-taking role might give individuals a sense of responsibility and purpose that contributes to their overall well-being.
5. Daily Routine and Structure. Pets require daily responsibility to meet their basic needs such as food and water and this brings structure to a pet owner’s daily activities.
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