Surprising Health Benefits of Pets

More reasons to love ’em

Surprising Health Benefits of Pets

Pet owners know what wonderful companions our pets can be. But did you know that owning a pet can help prevent us from getting sick and recover more quickly? Or that some animals can identify people who are suffering from various types of cancer?

Do you suffer from zooeyia (ZOO-EY-AH)? Congratulations. Zooeyia, a term coined from the Greek words for animal and health, describes the health benefits of pet ownership. From weight loss to smoking cessation, lower blood pressure to a more positive mental outlook, having pets in our lives offers many surprising health benefits.

Taking our pets to heart

Exercise is one of the best ways to prevent disease. Studies in Canada, Australia, and Japan have shown that dog ownership promotes physical activity. Dog owners are 57 to 77 percent more likely to achieve sufficient physical activity than people who didn’t own dogs. Along with being more active, people who walked their dogs had a lower body mass and were less likely to report having diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression.

We’ve known that pet ownership is linked to lower incidences of heart disease—however, we haven’t always known why. A recent study suggests pet ownership can moderate the imbalance caused by diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, and high triglyceride levels on our body’s cardiac autonomic nervous activity, possibly because pets improve our emotional state.

So, it’s not surprising that pet owners who have coronary artery disease show a greater one-year survival rate than non-owners, regardless of their heart attack’s severity.

A Double Benefit

Sometimes what we won’t do for ourselves, we’ll do for our pets—benefiting all of us.

  • Researchers found that when inactive dog owners were encouraged to walk for their dogs’ health, they were more likely to do so.
  • Similarly, people said they would be more motivated to quit smoking when told second-hand smoke could hurt their pets.

Animals take on cancer

Animals also play a role in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of cancer.

Diagnosis

Although we can’t detect it, some animals can identify people suffering from bladder, ovarian, lung, prostate, and breast cancers through olfactory signals, notably our exhaled breath. Thanks to dogs’ superior noses, we might one day be able to take a simple, non-invasive breathalyzer test to detect cancer.

Prevention

In one study of 4,000 people, owners of dogs, cats, and other domestic pets had a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) and diffuse large-cell lymphoma compared with those who never had owned a pet. Researchers suggest pet ownership alters our immune system and decreases our sensitivity to allergens, making us less susceptible to immune system-related cancers like NHL.

Treatment

Several studies of patients undergoing cancer treatment indicate those who have positive interactions with animals report improved health, decreased depression, and improved social and psychological well-being, even when experiencing physical and functional problems. On a physical level, they also show improved oxygen saturation levels.

Kids, cancer, and animals

Kids with cancer and therapy animals are a winning combination. A number of pediatric studies reported that interacting with therapy animals allowed kids to

  • accept their hospital experience and feel more normal and less ill
  • deal with and decrease levels of stress, anxiety, and pain
  • feel happier, more motivated, and optimistic
  • be more willing to participate in their treatment

Pets and recovery time

Pets can help prevent us from getting sick and to recover faster when we are. As early as the ninth century, healers used animals to augment traditional medical therapies. Today, more and more studies are proving those healers right.

Recent studies using therapy dogs in medical settings or pets at home have shown

  • lower pain levels and increased satisfaction with hospital stays among patients getting total joint replacements
  • significant improvement for pain, mood, and other measures of distress among outpatients with fibromyalgia
  • a willingness to walk earlier among patients hospitalized with chronic heart failure, resulting in shorter hospital stays and improved outcomes
  • increased wound healing and immune health

Pets and kids

While some parents feel pet ownership helps children become more responsible, studies show the benefits extend to mental, cognitive, emotional, and physical aspects as well.

  • As with adults, children who have dogs are less likely to be obese, especially if encouraged to play with and walk their dogs.
  • The more contact children had with dogs and cats during their first year of life, the less likely they are to have respiratory illness or ear infections, or to require antibiotics. Researchers believe this resistance to respiratory illnesses might continue during childhood. They are also less likely to develop asthma and allergies.
  • Having dogs in an educational setting reduces stress while promoting concentration, attention, and motivation.
  • Having a pet gives children a source of comfort and helps them develop empathy. This is also true for children with autism, who are sometimes better able to interact with pets, which may in turn help them interact with people. In several studies, simply the presence of a dog during occupational therapy resulted in greater use of language and social interaction. a

Pets and the elderly

Older people also benefit from being around pets:

  • Pet ownership or contact with animals among the elderly, who are often isolated, promotes social contact and interaction and decreases loneliness.
  • Older people who walk their dogs enjoy greater mobility inside their homes.

Supplements for pets

Used correctly, supplements may help keep our pets healthy and live longer, happier lives. While research is ongoing, existing information is mainly anecdotal or shows mixed results.

Overall health

Pre- and probiotic supplements can regulate digestive health, help the immune system maintain a healthy response, reduce allergy symptoms, heal dry, flaking skin and hair, and prevent diarrhea.

Old age and cognitive dysfunction

Dietary supplements including ginkgo leaf extract, antioxidants, vitamins, fatty acids, L-carnitine, coenzyme Q10, and phospholipids (phosphatidylserine) show promise in slowing down cognitive dysfunction in aging cats and dogs and reduce age-related behavioural disturbances.

Osteoarthritis

Current evidence supports a variety of supplements including the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and antioxidants to manage osteoarthritis.

Cancer

Researchers are starting to investigate supplements including green tea, conjugated linoleic acid, vitamin D, and polyunsaturated fatty acids both as prevention and adjuncts to chemotherapy.

Note: Always consult a veterinarian knowledgeable about animal tolerances and supplements.

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