Our Four-Legged Family Members Help Improve Our Health
June 25, 2013

Our Four-Legged Family Members Help Improve Our Health

I have always had pets. From traditional pets like dogs and cats to more exotic pets like parrots, goats, and lizards, I have never had a time in my life without a pet. When I lived in the dorms during university, and the only pets allowed were fish, I had a Chinese fighting fish called a betta. The pets I have had most often are dogs and cats. And I suspect that I will never live without a pet of some sort. I love animals, but, more importantly, I believe in the relationships that grow between pet and pet parent.

Now, though, there is evidence that shows having a pet is good for heart health as well as other health. In May, the Huffington Post reported on a statement from the American Heart Association (AHA) that says having pets really is good for our health.

Specifically, having pets may reasonably reduce the likelihood of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The Huffington Post article explains, “The statement takes into account research showing positive effects of pet ownership on heart health. For example, research shows that dog-owners get 54 percent more exercise than pet-free people. Other research shows pets can help lower stress, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity, and that owning a pet boosts survival among people with heart disease.”

Moreover, the Huffington Post shows some other health benefits from pets:

  • Pets may protect against respiratory infection.
  • Pets make our hearts more adaptable.
  • They lower workplace stress.
  • Having animals in our lives boosts our self-esteem.
  • Pets also calm blood pressure.
  • They lower the risk of death from heart attack.
  • Pets protect against allergies.
  • They ward off depression.
  • They can boost the “feel good” hormone oxytocin.

Each one of these health benefits definitely can inspire someone who is on the fence about having a pet to further consider adopting one. The health benefits range from psychological, emotional, and physical. If owning pets can both lower the risk of death from heart attack and lower workplace stress as well as boost self-esteem, then that is worth researching more.

Sure, it may be that those who are healthier by nature (exercise, eat healthy, and take care of themselves in general) may be the people who choose to have pets, but perhaps part of their health comes from the relationships they have with their pets. I know in my own experience that my pets are part of my family. When they are ill, I take them to the vet. When they hurt, I hurt. When they need affection, I provide that. And they give me just as much. My pets know when I am sad and need love. We spend time cuddling, exercising, and playing.

And when they die, I grieve. Our Great Pyrenees, Sammy, just died two weeks ago, and my heart is heavy with the emptiness. He was a prince, our protector, and our friend. He definitely made our lives happier and healthier. He jogged with me and calmed us all with his loving demeanor. We miss him now and will miss him for the rest of our lives. Of course, we will eventually make it through the grieving process and adopt another dog to love, but we will never replace our sweet Sammy.

My family would be incomplete without our pets. Now, I know that they contribute much more than I even thought.

The AHA is not promoting pet adoption just for the promotion of good human health, but it acknowledges that those who want pets might find more benefits than just companionship. Having a pet in your life requires time, dedication, and love, so one should only adopt a pet if he or she is really willing to commit to the pet.

P.S. The picture above is of two of my pets. The orange tabby is Ringo, and the big dog is Sammy. Both have contributed to my health, to my life, and to the lives of my family members.

Image Credit: Rayshell Clapper

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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