How Fido and Fluffy Improve Your Health

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By Teri Dreher, RN, CCM, Board Certified Patient Advocate

My family recently added a new member: Wilby, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy. In just a few months, this little guy hasn’t just brought us joy, laughter and love—he’s also brought us some surprising health benefits! 

Recent research indicates that pet ownership is good for our health in multiple ways. So, if you’re thinking about adopting a cat, or your kids are begging you for a dog, consider these seven health benefits of pet ownership. 

Pets Lower Blood Pressure and Cholesterol

According to numerous medical studies (and even the Centers for Disease Control), spending time with pets reduces cardiovascular risk by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides. Pets are literally good for our hearts. 

Pets Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Hanging out with pets is proven to reduce cortisol, the so-called stress hormone, while increasing serotonin and dopamine, brain chemicals that increase our sense of well-being.  According to a University of California study, pets soothe Alzheimer’s patients to the point of reducing aggressive behavior.

Dogs Improve Our Fitness Levels

According to a recent British study, dog owners walk 22 minutes more a day than non-owners—and regular walking lowers risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and more. I believe it: no matter how busy my schedule, I am now taking daily dog walks with Wilby. 

Dogs Improve Our Social Lives

Studies show that dog owners are much more likely to know their neighbors than non-owners—and they’re natural ice-breakers in social situations like at parks and in pet stores. In one survey, roughly 50% of dog owners said they made new friends as a result of their dog.

Pets Encourage Work/Life Balance 

Since Wilby came into my life, I’m much more selective about which speaking engagements I’m willing to travel for. Many Americans work too much, but pets can inspire us to recalibrate our priorities. When I take Wilby to my downtown office, he immediately lifts company morale.

Pets Can Help Kids Avoid Allergies

It may seem counterintuitive, but early exposure to cats and dogs appears to prevent young children from developing allergies and asthma, according to the National Institutes of Health. In one study, babies raised with at least two dogs or cats were found to be 77% less likely to develop allergies at age 6 than kids raised without pets.

Pets Make Us Happy—and Happy People May Live Longer

It’s harder to be depressed in the face of unconditional love and companionship. Recent studies suggest that an optimistic attitude leads to all kinds of health benefits, from a lower risk of heart disease to greater longevity. Even when Wilby is naughty, he makes us smile…who knew that when he runs off with our slippers, he’s really protecting our health?   

Of course, having a pet means practicing good hygiene, such as frequent handwashing, pet bathing, floor cleaning, etc. It also means supervising pets closely around children and teaching kids how to behave around pets. And of course, not everyone is an animal lover. But for those who are, pet ownership is beyond enjoyable—it’s also good for your health. 

Teri Dreher, RN, CCM, is a Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA). A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, today she is owner and founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the largest advocacy agency in the Chicago area. She recently founded Seniors Alone Guardianship & Advocacy Services, a not-for-profit organization that serves Chicago’s “senior orphans.” She has won numerous industry awards and is author of “Patient Advocacy Matters.” For more information about Teri’s work, visit NorthShoreRN.com or SeniorsAlone.org.