Take two pets, and call me in the morning

“Petting, scratching and cuddling a dog could be as soothing to the mind and heart as deep meditation and almost as good for the soul as prayer.”       -Dean Koontz

As you approach your house, you hear the familiar taps of nails on the tile floor. When you slowly open the door, you hear excited squeaks, yips and yaps, and see a tail wagging as if it could propel the animal into flight. This is the greeting your dog gives you every time you arrive home. There is nothing like the unconditional love a dog gives, but did you know that it can also benefit your health?

According to the National Center for Health Research, over 71 million American households have pets, and many consider their pets to be members of the family.

There are any number of proven health benefits to owning a pet including physical, mental and emotional improvements. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health have conducted studies that show that pet owners can exhibit decreases in blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The benefits may be connected to a pet’s tendency to help lower anxiety levels.

During the past 25 years, an increasing number of studies have been conducted regarding the health benefits of pets. The simple act of petting a dog or cat can help lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety. If you’ve ever owned a furry friend, you know how affectionate they can be. This helps ease depression and loneliness and fulfills that basic need to touch. Stroking or hugging an animal can calm nerves and soothe us when we’re stressed. Some dogs seem to be able to read our moods, and act accordingly. Dogs, more than any other animal, appear to be acutely aware of our behavior and emotions.

Some evidence has even shown that dog owners tend to be healthier than the average person. The basic need of a dog to be walked can prompt the owner to be more physically active, and increase the opportunities to socialize with other pet owners. There are reports of dogs sniffing out certain cancers. According to Live Science, “Dogs are not only good at sniffing out skin cancer, some can also detect bladder, lung, breast, ovarian and colon cancer.” Some have been trained to detect low blood sugar levels in diabetics, even before the owner has noticed the symptoms, and nudged them into eating.

Seizure dogs, similar to seeing-eye dogs, help their owners navigate daily activities and keep them safe. The dogs learn to recognize subtle behavior changes and warn their owners of an upcoming attack so that they can get to a safe place or call for help.

There are a variety of groups that provide vigorous training for service animals. Many people think of seeing-eye dogs, but some service dogs can be trained to detect trace amounts of allergens, such as peanuts, to assist those who suffer from severe life-threatening allergies.

Walter Reed Army Medical Center uses dogs to help soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Service dogs, many of which are rescued from shelters, can be trained to help veterans with PTSD or other disabilities in a variety of ways, such as waking them from nightmares, helping calm them during panic attacks, reminding them to take medications, redirecting them from a source of anger, and helping them sit or stand.

Project Chance, a non-profit organization based in Florida, is just one organization that provides service dogs trained to help autistic children and those with developmental disabilities. An autism assistance dog is there for emotional support, and helps reassure the child and ease sensory overload. Because many autistic children do not understand personal safety, the dogs also steer the children away from traffic and other dangerous situations.

Recently, many assisted living facilities have realized the benefits pets have in the lives of senior adults. The animals can help ease loneliness and stress, and give seniors a renewed interest in life. Some facilities have a pet care coordinator who ensures the pets are well taken care of, groomed and have up-to-date vaccinations. The pets can give the elderly a sense of purpose. And, the unconditional love of a dog or cat helps seniors socialize more with others.

Although pets provide a great amount of benefits, adopting one should not be taken lightly. You must be willing and able to take on a commitment that can last for years. However, the years of loving them will be rewarding, and who doesn’t like being treated like a rockstar every time you
come home?


Web MD, Animal Planet, Womans Day 2/28/11, Harvard Health Publications