Ways Pets Can Lead A Healthy Life
What keeps anxiety and depression away, lowers blood pressure, boosts immunity, and even improves your social life? Research through nearly twenty-five years has shown that for all these, all you’ll need is a loving tail-wagging or maybe softly purring animal.
Allergy Busters and Immuno-Boosters
In the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at University of Wisconsin-Madison, writes that more and more studies suggest that kids growing up in a home with a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals will have less risk of allergies and asthma.
Gern analyzed the blood of babies immediately after birth and one year later to look for evidence of allergic reactions, immunity changes, and infections possibly caused by bacteria in their environment.
If a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to develop pet allergies, even eczema, a common skin allergy that causes itching red patches. They also showed higher levels of some immune system chemicals. “Dogs are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system,” Gern says.
Dogs ease people out of social isolation or shyness, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta. “People ask about breed, they watch the dog’s tricks,” Kaslow says. “Sometimes the conversation stays at the ‘dog level,’ sometimes it becomes a real social interchange.” Better than the internet, pets are great for social networking and even matchmaking.
Seniors Life Support
“Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home,” says Lynette Hart, PhD, associate professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “Their caregivers also feel less burdened when there is a pet, particularly if it is a cat, which generally requires less care than a dog,” says Hart. The elderly can walk a dog or just care for a pet which, in turn provides exercise and companionship. As part of their medical screening, Midland Life Insurance Company of Columbus, Ohio, asks clients over age 75 if they have a pet — which often helps tip the scales in their favor.
Good For Hearts, Minds, and Biochemistry
AIDS patients who own pets are far less likely to suffer from depression. “The benefit is especially pronounced when people are strongly attached to their pets,” says researcher Judith Siegel, PhD.
In one study, hypertensive stockbrokers who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than people without pets. Stress puts people into a “state of dis-ease” in which chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine harm the immune system, says Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health
Studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease, says Justice. Heart attack patients who have pets survive longer than those without, according to several. Male pet owners have less sign of heart disease — lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels.
Playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters known to have pleasurable and calming properties. Justice, who recently hiked the Colorado Rockies with his wife and two dogs, observed: “People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature.”