Animals and Your Health: The Benefits of Pet Ownership
You’ve had a horrible day. Your car was hit in the parking lot, you missed a project deadline, and you’re starving. You juggle your briefcase and keys, open the front door, and are greeted by a lop-sided grin and wagging tail. Laughing, you reach down and playfully tussle your Labrador’s head—all the worries melting away as you romp on the living room carpet. Ah, the joys of pets.
There is no doubt that the companionship and love a pet can offer is a valuable thing. But maybe the benefits of pets go beyond this emotional bond. A growing body of evidence suggests that those who keep pets are likely to benefit from a variety of improvements in health.
What the Studies Show
One study of older men and women found that owning a cat or dog helped maintain or even slightly enhance their Activities of Daily Living (ADL) score. This scale included questions about being able to do activities like walking several blocks, getting in and out of bed, preparing meals, bathing and dressing, and preparing food. Though this study found no direct link between psychological well-being and pet ownership, people in this survey who owned pets and had lower social support in a crisis situation were less likely to experience a decline in psychological well-being when compared to those with lower social support who did not have pets.
Researchers have observed that older adults who own pets are less likely to use physician services unnecessarily. Other research has suggested that owning a dog can reduce the impact of stresses encountered in day-to-day life. In addition, studies have found that pets in the workplace are perceived to relieve employee stress, make the environment friendlier, provide a pleasant diversion from work, and provide companionship. These benefits may even be passed on to customers who encounter pets in businesses, giving a favorable impression of a company and fostering social interaction.
The Heart Health Benefits of Pets
Studies have shown that those who own pets may have significantly lower systolic blood pressure, triglyceride values, and cholesterol levels than those who do not own pets—even after accounting for additional exercise and other differences.
A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that male dog owners were significantly less likely to die within one year after a heart attack than those who did not own a dog. These findings were significant, though the ability to generalize these findings to the total US population was limited by several study factors. These results, however, may still be useful in prompting further exploration into what it is about pet ownership that provides these health benefits.
Why We Benefit From the Company of Animals
There are several benefits to having a pet:
- Companionship and pleasurable activity
- Facilitate exercise, play, and laughter
- Have something to care for and a source of consistency
- Allow feeling of security
- Are a comfort to touch and a pleasure to watch
- Provide a link with reality to enhance emotional stability
- Become a receptive partner in a relationship of mutual trust that promotes self-awareness
- Provide nonjudgmental acceptance and love
- Improved sense of well-being
Is a Pet Right For You?
Does this mean you should run to the nearest pet store and buy a cat, bird, or fish? Though this preliminary research suggests that pet ownership may be beneficial to your health, you need to make sure that the pet you choose fits in with your lifestyle, habits, experience, and expectations. Because pets are completely dependent on you for everything, it’s important to make sure that you’re willing to commit to the responsibilities they entail. If you’ve never had a pet before, starting out with a fish or hamster might be a better idea than jumping right into dog or cat ownership. A number of resources can help you see if owning a pet is right for you.
Keep the following questions in mind as we go along.
1. Have I found the right breed to fit into my lifestyle and home?
2. Will you have enough time to spend training, grooming and exercising a dog?
3. Am I willing to spend the resources to ensure the best future for a dog?
The Breed For You
Is there a breed you have had your eye on, or are you confused about how to select a dog? In either case, you should do some homework to make sure that you select the right dog for you and your family. The bonus of selecting a purebred dog is their predictability in size, coat, care requirements and temperament. Knowing what your cute puppy will look like and the kind of care he will need as an adult is a key in selecting the breed for you.
You and Your Dog
Too frequently, common sense goes out the window when it comes to buying a puppy. This seems to be even truer when the purchase is by a family with children. Buying a dog is like buying anything else; the more you know before you buy, the better off you will be. This advice applies to all aspects of buying your dog, from selecting the breed to deciding where to obtain the puppy. We strongly recommend that you spend enough time investigating before buying. Remember, dogs are for life.
The AKC’s Complete Dog Book can help you begin your research with its pictures and descriptions of each breed recognized by the AKC. Your initial research will help you narrow the field when it comes to selecting the breed for you and your lifestyle. Remember to consider your dog’s lifestyle, too. And for extended research, consult the resources at your local library.
While investigating, always be honest with yourself. The Bearded Collie you fell in love with because of his lush coat is indeed beautiful, but are you going to be able to brush this coat every day as it requires? Maybe a short coated dog better suits your busy lifestyle. Think about the size of your house or your apartment. Will that Golden Retriever be happy in your studio apartment? The Golden Retriever is a larger sporting dog who requires a lot of exercise. Do you have a fenced yard so he can go out safely? If not, can you afford to install a fence? These are crucial questions regarding the safety of your dog and being a responsible neighbor. Always remember, it is okay to change your mind about which breed you want or if you want the responsibility of owning a dog at all. Owning a dog is a big responsibility! Talk to breeders. Ask them lots of questions; we all know there are no stupid questions. A responsible breeder will eagerly answer your questions and share his or her experience and knowledge with you. Where can you find breeders and see dogs? At dog shows (conformation events). Also contact AKC clubs in your area for their recommendations.
Selecting A Breeder
Buy your puppy from a responsible and well-respected breeder. This cannot be stressed enough. Responsible breeders are concerned with the betterment of the breed. For example, they work on breeding healthier dogs with the appropriate temperament for their breed. Your AKC breeder referral contact will direct you to a breeder who is concerned with the future of the puppy. Once you select a breeder, screen the breeder. Ask to see at least one of the parents (the dam or the sire) of your puppy. See how the dogs in your breeder’s home interact with your breeder. Are they friendly and outgoing or do they shy away? The responsible breeder will be screening you, too, looking for the best home for each puppy.
How Much Does A Puppy Cost?
This is not the time to hunt for a bargain. Your new puppy will be a member of your family for his lifetime, so you’ll want to make a wise investment.
Can You Afford A Puppy?
The purchase price of your puppy is not the only cost you have to consider. Be aware that the puppy you bring home will need proper care: food, health care, (a dog needs annual shots). Your puppy will also need little things like a collar with identification, a bowl, and a leash. Evaluate your budget; ask yourself if you really can afford a dog. Dog Ownership = Responsibility.
Being a responsible owner means considering your dog’s lifelong health care needs, whether for preventive care or for unexpected accidents, injuries and illnesses that could happen at any time, however well you look after your dog. It is sensible to consider planning for these.