By Mary Feltovich
If yours is like about 85 million other homes in the United States, you probably have a pet. The most common pets, according to research from the American Pet Products Association, are dogs (63.4 million), cats (42.7 million), freshwater fish (11.5 million), and birds (5.7 million).
There are thousands of research studies written about the mental and physical benefits of having a pet.
Purdue University researchers found that Alzheimer’s patients responded positively to fish tanks. The brightly colored fish in the tanks draw the patient’s attention, help decrease disruptive behavior and improve their eating habits. Patients seem more relaxed and alert when there are fish tanks in their living environment.
The American Heart Association touts the benefits of owning a dog (and walking your dog) for people with cardiovascular disease. The Center for Disease Control says studies show that the bond between pets and their owners can lower stress.
If you have a pet, you know firsthand the joy and love they bring to your life, but here are seven ways they’re good for your health:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression. Even being around pets that aren’t yours can lift your spirits—whether it’s a trip to the zoo or aquarium or interacting with a friend’s cat or dog.
- People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
- Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
- Pets, particularly dogs, increase your physical activity .
If you don’t have a pet but are thinking of getting one, make sure it’s the right one for you. Some things to think about:
- How long will it live?
- How much exercise (and what kind) does it need? For example, puppies and larger dogs need a lot more physical stimulation and activity typically than older or smaller dogs.
- What are the costs to care for it? (Vet checkups, food, any special needs)
- Are pets allowed where you live?
- Do you have enough time to spend with and take care of a pet?
Don’t worry—if you’re not ready to be a pet owner, there are ways to enjoy pets and animals without the full-time commitment.
- Volunteer at a local animal shelter or rescue center. You can walk the dogs or sit with the cats and give them an opportunity to become more social (which means more adoptable).
- Fostering may be the first step if you are unsure about a full-time pet. This allows you to temporarily care for the animal in your home until a permanent home is found.
- Pet sit for friends and family members. You get the fun of hanging out with their dogs or cats for short periods of time without the full-time responsibility.
Mary Feltovich is HealthTeam Advantage’s nurse coder specialist. She’s a registered nurse, with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, a certified professional coder, and a certified risk adjustment coder.