Owning Pets Can Lead To:
Increased Health, Increased Longevity, Decreased Cholesterol, Decreased Weight, Decreased Depression, and Overall Improvement in Physical and Emotional Health.
Shared by Dr. Phil McAllister @ Forward Health Guelph
As a pet owner, I frequently hear that owning a pet, or a dog in particular, can be a huge benefit in relation to your health and can possibly help you live longer. For years I have believed and reported this to be true to my patients. The results I have witnessed with sick patients and geriatrics receiving pet therapy is amazing and truly touches your heart when you witness the smiles and energy reborn in these individuals. It seems that when patients are lost in the sadness of an illness, or lost in their own minds with dementia, dogs can lift their spirits and bring them back to happiness and health. As a healthcare provider writing this article, I thought it was prudent to do a bit of research on the topic. To be more accurate on a scholarly level, I did not do research, I did read the research of others on the topic, including the American Heart and Stroke Foundation, making it a literature review.
My Review of Available Research
My review did have some interesting findings with respect to increased health and longevity, decreased cholesterol levels, weight and depression, and overall improvement in physical and emotional health. Wow, with those results, why wouldn’t everyone get a dog, or another type of pet? It’s like the perfect diet pill with an emotional bonus?! Does dog food cost less than a gym membership and a happy pill prescription? Sounds too easy to be true, and it might not be true in reality.
Dog Owners are more Active than Cat Owners
A further review of literature shows that people who choose dogs over cats are more active prior to obtaining the pet. Daniel DeNoon, the executive editor of the Harvard Heart Letter spoke of a study that “followed 369 people with cardiovascular disease. A year later, those who owned a dog were four times more likely to be alive than those who didn’t have a dog. Cats, however, did not improve their owners’ odds of survival” (link at bottom of page).
Complete Unconditional Love
There was no mention of activity level of the dog owners or the cat owners. Did the dog owner study group live longer because they were more active before the heart disease and remained active after the heart disease? Were the cat owners less active? It is obvious that there was a distinct difference in survival rate. Could the results be related to the often independent nature of cats versus the unconditional love of a puppy or a dog?
The emotional needs of a dog compared to a cat are directed at the owner as in the traditional dog filled with uber excitement just waiting for their owner to simply open their eyes in the morning. For my dogs, it is like a celebration to see me wake up in the morning, with a huge amount of energy, love, and happiness. Complete unconditional love has to be good for your health!
Active People get Dogs
Berkley University in California speaks of the connection between health and having a dog for a pet. One of their statements regarding a recent study “confirmed that dog owners get more physical activity (at least in part because they have to walk their dogs), and are less likely to be overweight or to smoke, all of which contributes to cardiovascular health”.
Once again, I have a difficult time believing that having a dog would make you quit smoking or over-eating. The most reasonable explanation for this statement would be that people who choose to get a puppy (or in my case two puppies) are already active and engaging in health provoking activities. With certainty, I can assure the world that if I was overweight and smoking, it would impede taking care of my two crazy but beautiful boxer puppies.
Dogs Take a Lot of Energy!
Dogs do take a lot of energy!
My spouse’s mother constantly questions “why we didn’t get lap dogs”, and his daughters believe “cats are all we could handle, dogs are just too much work!”
They are all 100% accurate! Dogs are a lot of work, and that work comes with a huge return of love and kisses. That work is what makes you stay healthy. You can’t sit for long without them making you move. They require attention and give you attention. Therefore, they don’t let you decline in health, they insist you stay active, and activity is what it takes to lower your cholesterol, reduce your weight, increase your mental health, and possibly gives you more energy to make healthier choices on other topics such as smoking?
Increasing Health by Increasing Activity
In addition to increasing health by increasing activity, many dog owners thrive secondary to the unconditional love of a pet. Pets don’t get angry because you didn’t listen to their story over dinner, they don’t care if you left the toilet seat up, they don’t care if you missed a special event, they only care that you give them love and attention. They will wait for your love under any circumstance and will never try to make you beg for forgiveness. This type of unconditional love makes dogs exceptional for people with health issues or mental health issues.
One must also consider that dogs do not live as long as humans. The loss of a dog is as equal on a pain or emotional pain scale as losing a loved one. Harvard Medical School states,”the death of a pet can trigger a grieving process similar to what happens after the loss of a close friend or family member” (link at bottom of the page).
Being attentive to family or friends that are experiencing health issues in their pet are the same as health issues in a family member. Be present and helpful to your loved ones when they experience the same. Altered health of a dog that has given unconditional love to your mother, father, brother, sister, or child will indeed affect them in a way that they will need your assistance. Grieving is a curious entity and a broken heart is not easily mended.
Families and health care providers should always know pet therapy is available to assist with grieving. My boxer puppies visited a long-term care home and the residents would glow at holding them and even talked to their families daily about my dogs.
A piece of heaven on earth!
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