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How do pets affect our health?

Paw-sitive Impacts 

A daily walk with your pooch can be invaluable in contributing to your recommended 60 minutes of daily exercise. A brisk walk is weight bearing exercise which helps to strengthen your bones and the muscles around them; helping to improve the symptoms of conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis.

If you’re able to walk at 4mph or more, or on a slight incline for 30mins+, you’re less likely to suffer from high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and weight related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes. People who have pets also tend to have better levels of cholesterol, compared with those that don’t. Whilst the reason for this remains somewhat unclear, it is thought that it could be to do with the more active lifestyle pet owners seem to have. 

A big factor in these positive health benefits when looking at dogs in particular, are from the increase in exercise that goes hand in hand with dog ownership but it has also been proven that just by stroking or cuddling your pet, you can lower your blood pressure.

In a 20-year study, people who had owned a cat were 40% less likely to die of a heart attack compared to those who hadn’t. In a similar study, dog owners had a better survival rate one year after a heart attack compared with non-pet owners. 

Children that grow up in a home with a dog or a cat, or even those who have a lot of contact with large farm animals, are less likely to develop allergies and tend to experience fewer viral infections compared to those who grow up in pet-free homes.

Pet allergies are a common trigger for conditions like asthma, so growing up around pets (specifically cats) leads to less allergies and in turn, these children are less likely to develop asthma as they get older. 

Being around a pet, be it stroking a cat or dog or watching fish swim, has been shown to reduce stress hormones (cortisol) and increase a ‘feel-good’ chemical called serotonin as well as a love chemical; oxytocin.

In addition to this, pets are non-judgmental, constant companions who are great listeners and don’t give an opinion. This means many people feel safer opening up, getting things off their chest and can experience many of the same benefits talking therapies provide 

As well as keeping you active, walking a dog or cat or hacking out on a horse are great ways to socialise! Pet owners love a chat, especially if you tend to walk in the same places, you see the same friendly faces! This can help to combat feelings of isolation and loneliness. 

Owning a pet is also helpful in teaching and maintaining key life skills in children, people with dementia, autism and ADHD by improving independence, and teaching things like how to plan ahead, take responsibility and have empathy for others.  

Downsides of Pet Ownership 

As with everything, there is a downside of pet ownership. For some, pet ownership can be a stressful experience. Pets can be a financial and lifestyle burden, especially as they age. They can also cause injury – we see cases every day where people have been pulled over by their dog or tripped over their cat!  

It is important you weigh up the pros and cons and decide what is right for you before getting a pet – if you decide to go for it, you might have some life-changing, positive health impacts and if you find yourself in pain with a pet-related incident, don’t hesitate to get in touch! 

Elizabeth Garvey
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