Having a pet is good for your health! For starters if you have a dog and you WALK your dog, you are getting outside, getting fresh air and walking too. But even if you are elderly or physically challenged in some way, owners of pets report consistently that they feel healthier. Research shows that Alzheimer’s patients have less anxiety attacks with a dog around and the very nature of pets who will cuddle and sit with you, provides companionship for the elderly and those living alone.
Animal behaviorist, Patricia McConnell, writes in her book, For the Love of a Dog, that levels of oxytocin, a mood-affecting neurotransmitter or feel-good brain hormone, can increase when one just pets a dog. That’s great news for your personal health. And Dr. Horst Becket of the Berlin Longevity Institute states that cats have a calming effect on people, lowering blood pressure and slowing heart rates. This can add an average of 10.3 years of life to people who have owned cats since childhood, Becket claims.
But what about children getting allergies from owning a pet? That’s changed, writes pediatrician James E. Gern MD in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. Studies now show that children growing up with “furred animals” dog or cat, or on a farm with small or large animals, have less risk of asthma and allergies. Blood tests on infants at birth and then a year later who lived with animals were less likely to reveal evidence of pet allergies: 19% vs 33%. Dr. Gern concluded that the exposure to allergens strengthened the immune response.
Sara Henderson, president and programs chair of The Pet Project Midwest, in Des Moines, Iowa, understands how important the life and health of a pet is to an elderly person or a family in need. She started The Pet Project that helps pets and their owners on many different levels. Their mission statement: We believe: The way we treat animals says much about our view of the world. Therefore, kindness to animals creates a kinder world.
To this end The Pet Project is currently running two major programs: The Pet Pantry started in April of 2010 and Iowa Pet Alert. In these difficult economic times, pet owners apply for help from the Pet Pantry, which will provide up to 4 months of food and supplies. These are donated by individuals or purchased wholesale. Though not always able to match preferred brands, beloved pets get fed! All the cat litter is clay. If a client has a pet with special nutritional needs, they can make a note on their application and volunteers who stock the food and make deliveries will try to address that particular need. The Iowa Pet Alert uses social networking to disseminate information about lost or found pets. All the work done on these projects is made possible because of volunteers.
To further insure that aging folks will get the help they need for themselves and their pets, a new program, Animeals, provides a week of pet food and is delivered in conjunction with a hot meals on wheels program.
Sara Henderson and others have first hand knowledge of how much pets help humans stay healthy and connected:
- many studies point to the fact that regular contact with pets helps reduce or lower cholesterol levels and speed recovery after illness
- a study in the UK showed pet owners dealt better with a loss in the family than those who did not have a pet; possibly they were able to share feelings with their pet in a time when it was difficult to talk to humans
- caregivers report that being around dogs and cats is beneficial to seniors, helping to remind them of normal home life and making them feel more comfortable and at ease; seniors get a sense of purpose and a cure for loneliness when caring for a pet
- children who grow up with a pet often have an easier time forming relationships with family members and friends as well as gaining confidence; having an animal also provides a means for making new friends.
Do you have a story to share about your pet and what a difference the animal has made in your life?