Health Benefits of Pets

The beauty that can come from the interaction between humans and nature is quite amazing, especially that between people and pets.

A dear friend lost her 17 year old cat last week. My friend is in her 80’s and has experienced the loss of many loved ones. She told me through tears that she was shocked at her level of grief over losing the cat. There was a tinge of guilt in her statement-though there needn’t be. For many people pets provide constant companionship and are a part of the family.

Along with the simple joy of having a relationship with an animal, research suggests that owning a pet can have health benefits. Some of these may include:

  • Heart health. One study showed that pets can induce a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure similar to the effect of a popular drug. A large German study published in 2007 in Social Indicators Research showed that people who owned a pet had fewer doctor visits. Another study done in China had similar findings.
  • Social Support. Animals, particularly dogs and cats provide social support. Of course people do too-but sometimes those relationships can also bring stress. And, having an animal can bring about more social interaction with strangers, for example encountering others while walking a dog, visiting the vet, or going to a dog park.
  • Better function for older adults. A 1999 study done on older adults and published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society showed that those who had a dog or cat were more functional than non-pet owners. They were more able to climb stairs, bend, kneel or stoop, take medicine, prepare meals, and bathe and dress independently. Researchers suggested that the care taking role provided the seniors with more purpose and sense of responsibility leading to a higher level of well-being.

Many residents at Brookdale communities have pets. Quite often a resident’s dog becomes a community dog. And for those who don’t or can’t have pets, our communities often offer visits from pet therapy dogs. I have seen residents light up when interacting with a therapy animal. The impact is especially wonderful for those living with dementia or depression.

This quote by author of Call of the Wild, Jack London says so much about the simple but truly profound gift that pets can be, “Dogs don’t rationalize. They don’t hold anything against a person. They don’t see the outside of a human but the inside of a human.”

Be Well on Purpose!

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