When you adopt a pet, a funny thing happens. You don’t become a pet owner. You become a pet parent. (All you pet parents out there know exactly what we’re talking about.) It’s not as high-stakes as being an actual parent, of course, but the onus remains the same. This little bundle of joy? You are now solely responsible for its health and wellbeing.
But guess what? Your little furry friend is just as responsible for yours—and it goes beyond just greeting you like king when you come home from work. In fact, dishing out a few pets a day can keep the doctor away. Here’s how. And if you’re thinking of going out and picking up a pet of your own, be sure to brush up on the 10 Things You Need to Know Before Adopting a Shelter Dog.
You’ll make more friends.
The trope of a “crazy cat lady” is a pervasive one. But as it turns out, it’s entirely untrue. According to a study in PLoS One, pet parents are 40 percent more likely to form friendly human connections in their neighborhood than non-pet parents. And for more ways to make friends, here’s How To Build A Bromance As Strong As Your Marriage.
You’ll stand a better chance at surviving a heart attack.
According to research in the American Journal of Cardiology, pet-owning victims of cardiac arrest are likely to survive at least an additional year after the heart attack. In fact, dog ownership may be the most helpful medicine for a post-heart attack life. Out of the the dog-owning group of heart attack survivors in the study, just a single study participant passed away.
Pets reduce your stress.
Coming home to a loving pet is like a personal paw-print paparazzi. (It’s amazing!) But there’s a reason coming home to a bundle of fur feels like you just took a load off—and the research dates back a long time. According to a 2002 study from SUNY Buffalo, being around your pet significantly reduces stress levels while doing a stressful task, like trying to meet a deadline at work. In fact, being around your pet reduces stress more than being around a family member does. For more ways to slash stress, be sure to avoid the 20 Mistakes That Are Only Compounding Your Stress.
Takes a load off parenting
For parents of kids with ADHD, there may be a solution to the “medicate or not to medicate” question. According to a study in the Journal of Attention Disorder, kids who undergo canine-assisted intervention (CAI) go on to have better social interaction—a bump in prosocial behaviors and a reduction in so-called “bad behavior”—than kids who undergo traditional cognitive behavioral interventions.
They strengthen your microbiome.
Gluten. Nuts. Pollen. It seems everyone’s allergic to something. But, per a study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, growing up around pets alters your body on a microbial level, so you’re less likely to develop allergies as you age. As far as pet allergies, well, they’ll simply never develop in the first place. A subset of study participants grew up on farms—none of them had allergies to pets.
They help with trauma.
Everyone knows and loves the solider-reunited-with-dog videos. (One top compilation on Youtube has amassed more than 50 million views.) But there’s more than just literal puppy love to these heartwarming clips; being around animals helps soothe PTSD. In fact, in 2012, Walter Reed Memorial Hospital approved a pilot program for using trained therapy dogs to rehabilitate soldiers suffering from PTSD.
They help lower cholesterol.
Here’s your three-step plan for reducing cholesterol: Cut back on red meat. Eat more omega-3s. And pet your cat. Yes, according to the CDC, consistently being around a household pet will significantly lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels. (The CDC is sure to note, however, that their research is inconclusive on if Fido himself lowers your figures, or if pet parents just happen to live healthier lives than non-parents.)
Dogs help keep blood pressure down.
According to the American Heart Association, pet parents have a significantly lower risk of developing heart disease, especially if their fur child is a dog. Dog owners are apparently 54 percent more likely than non-owners to get the daily recommended amount of physical activity. This checks out; after all, dogs need to be walked—all the dang time.
In fact, dogs help with basically everything.
But, despite how annoying walking Fido may be, going for a dog walk is immeasurably helpful. In addition to maintaining a healthy blood pressure level, 10 minutes of daily walking, according to the Mayo Clinic, can help prevent diabetes, can improve posture, and can strengthen your bones.
Pets assist patients in their recovery from addiction.
For folks suffering from addiction, stress is a major catalyst for relapse. Pets, as mentioned, reduce stress. But, per the folks at Promises Treatment Centers, a series of rehabilitation facilities in southern California, those pets can have even more benefits for people struggling with addiction. In fact, the doctors at PTC encourage most of their patients to adopt a pet once they’re discharged. The existence of a furry friend provides the social support necessary for “avoiding [the] stress and depression that can lead to relapse.”
Pets are nature’s pain relief.
Surgery is terrible. But there’s one a silver lining. According to a study in Anthrozoos, pet-owning patients recovering from surgery have a 28-percent less need for pain medication, like valium or Vicodin. So pet away. It’ll keep the doctor away.
You get to feel morally superior.
Reach for the tissues, folks: Each year, according to the ASPCA, 1.5 million shelter cats and dogs are euthanized each year. (The good news: This is a reduced number from the recent high, 2.6 million, in 2011.) By deciding to adopt a pet, you get to adopt something else: The moral high ground.
You’ll have lots of emotional support.
You regularly see “seeing-eye dogs” on the street. (Don’t pet the pups without express permission. They’re working!) But there’s an entirely different type of service animal: Emotional support animals, which are meant to treat everything from anxiety and depression to chronic panic attacks. And if anyone tries to bar your emotional support animal from an airplane or apartment, know this: You’re protected by the Fair Housing Act and the Air Carrier Act.
You’ll have a 24/7 personal nurse.
Yes, as mentioned, seeing-eye dogs are service animals. But these hardworking fur-balls can do more than serve as a substitute pair of eyes; service animals can help with a variety of ailments, including deafness, diabetes, and epilepsy. You can register both service animals and emotional support animals at the U.S. Service Animal & Support Animal Registry.
Pets are great wingmen.
Or so we’ve heard.
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