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Want to be happier and lower disease risk? Hang out with a pet

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Most pet lovers find their furry, feathered, hoofed, and scaly companions count among their best friends. But pets aren't only good company — research shows they greatly benefit your mental and physical health.  

Pets help the developing immune system

A study in  Finland  showed that babies who grew up in a home with cats and dogs were 44 percent less likely to develop ear infections and 29 percent less likely to receive antibiotics in their first year compared to babies from pet-free homes. The theory is that exposure to bacteria brought in from outside by pets helps the developing immune system learn how to react properly to germs in the environment. And the more time the pet spent outdoors, the greater the benefit.

Other studies show that children who live with dogs and cats in the first year of life are less likely to develop  allergies  to those animals later in life.

Pets help you live longer and lower disease risk

Babies aren't the only ones benefiting from pets:

  • People with pets have  lower cholesterol and triglyceride  levels than non pet-owners, regardless of weight, diet, and smoking habits.
  • In subjects who have experienced a heart attack, dog ownership decreases the  odds for death the first year post-heart-attack  from 1 in 15 to 1 in 87!
  • In people undergoing stress tests or physical examinations, the presence of a dog during the exam lowered heart rate and blood pressure.
  • "Seizure-alert"  animals are trained to signal their owners prior to a seizure as well as protect them during the event.
  • Some pets are trained to alert their diabetic humans to episodes of  hypoglycemia  (low blood sugar) before life-threatening symptoms develop.
  • Prescription drug use and overall costs of caring for patients in nursing homes dropped in facilities where companion animals became part of daily therapy.
  • The need to exercise a pet and care for it often results in better physical and mental health for the human, regardless of age.
  • Researchers at the  University of Arizona  are exploring whether dogs can improve human health by having a  probiotic  effect on the body.

Pets provide mental, emotional, and social benefits  

A study at  Tufts University  found young adult pet owners are more connected to their communities and relationships, are more engaged in community service, help family and friends, demonstrate more leadership, and have more empathy and confidence than non pet owners.

Caring for a pet can prevent downward spirals by providing consistency and routine, helping us feel needed, and giving us something to do each day.

This is especially true for those who live alone, as well as the elderly, who say their pets provide social companionship and a reason to get out of the house for exercise and socialization.

Even  families  surveyed before and after they acquired a pet reported feeling happier after adopting a pet.

In conclusion,  pet owners  exhibit greater self-esteem, are more physically fit, more conscientious, less lonely, more socially outgoing, and have healthier relationship styles than non-pet people. The researchers concluded that our pets contribute to our sense of self just as much as our human companions do.

Meet the Author

Dr. Boyle D.A.C.M., LAc., DiplOM.

Dr. Boyle D.A.C.M., LAc., DiplOM. is the founder of the Holistic Wellness Center of the Carolinas where he is the Director of Functional Medicine. He holds a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine and is acupuncture physician and primary care physician in the state of Florida. His post-graduate focus has been in the fields of functional neurology, functional immunology, and functional endocrinology.

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