The mere presence of a furry friend in your life can be just as good for your mental and physical well-being as an anti-depressant, home security system and membership at the local yoga studio all rolled into one. And it’s not just dog and cat lovers who think so. There is an increasing number of scientific studies about the beneficial effects of owning a pet – from making you happier and healthier to saving your life. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest bonuses your animal relationships are giving you.
Fighting the Sniffles
According to the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, research shows that children are 31% less likely to suffer respiratory infections if they live with a pet, and kids from dog-owning homes got 44% fewer ear infections.
“It’s more support in a growing body of evidence that exposure to pets early in life can stimulate the immune system to do a better job of fighting off infection,” Dr. Danielle Fisher, Vice Chair of Pediatrics at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, said in a recent Los Angeles Times article.
And in what might be the most surprising twist, it looks like all that pet dander can actually keep kids from developing allergies and other respiratory problems. Having a pet in the home (along with everything they track in) puts the immune system in top training form, preparing it to deal with the variety of bugs and bacteria that are bound to find your family eventually.
Turn that Frown Upside Down
MSNBC reported that petting man’s best friend releases feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin, making us feel better and lowering stress levels. And a University of California study found that men with AIDS had three times less incidence of depression if they had a canine companion.
While it seems like a no-brainer that owning a pet leads to a happier, more balanced life, researchers like Dr. Rebecca Johnson, Associate Director for the Center for Animal Wellness at the Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine, want to understand why this happens and ultimately find the proof that could lead to doctors prescribing regular pet-sessions in the future.
Peace of Mind
There’s no question that staying home alone at night is a lot less daunting with an alert and protective puppy at your side. Dogs are great for letting you know when something seems awry, from a strange person approaching the house to the freaky sixth sense that canines seem to possess. They definitely keep an eye out for potential intruders and even do their darndest to scare the bad guys away with a fierce bark.
Shedding Extra Pounds
If you’re having a hard time sticking to your fitness regimen, then making your pet part of the process may be the key to success. Researchers at the University of Missouri found that people who walk with a dog exercise more regularly and show more improvement in physical fitness that people who walk with a human buddy. Another study at Northwestern Medical School confirmed the results, finding that people who went on a diet and exercise plan with their pet lost more weight and kept it off better than those who tried to lose weight alone or with a human partner.
“If you’re looking for motivation and social support to lose weight, you probably don’t have to look any further than the pet in your own home,” Dr. Robert Kushner, who led the Northwestern study, said. And your dog will benefit too – both studies showed that the pooches also shed pounds and showed more pep in their step.
Parents are always trying to find ways to teach kids to be more responsible, show more follow through and generally prove they are ready to be contributing members of society. Well, your family pet can accomplish all of that and the kid probably won’t even notice he’s learning. Owning a pet and giving your child responsibilities like feeding them, exercising them and cleaning up after them is a great way to help your youngster mature and learn to put another’s needs first.
But mom and dad aren’t off the hook. The biggest mistake parents make is adopting a dog and then immediately handing the pup over to their offspring. Just as with any life lesson, parents need to supervise and closely oversee the initial bonding and training of the animal. Parents need to model the behavior they are hoping their children will adopt. A conscientious parent makes all the difference in the success of the child-dog relationship.
What other benefits do you think our loved pets offer?