The Star-Herald

Pets: Rx for a happier life

We include them in our family portraits, make room for them on our beds, tell them our deepest secrets and miss work when they’re sick. And whether they paw, fly or swim their way into our hearts, pets are an important part of our lives.

America is a nation of animal lovers. According to the National Pet Owners Survey, about two-thirds of U.S. households own at least one pet, which means 71 million homes provide shelter for at least one furry, feathery or scaly critter. We take good care of our pets, but did you know that our pets also take good care of us? A growing body of research suggests that owning and interacting with a pet can improve our health.

Besides loving you unconditionally, studies show that those wagging, purring or hopping bundles of love can reduce your stress levels, tame your blood pressure, curb your depression, reduce feelings of loneliness, keep you physically fit and even help you live longer.

Some studies suggest that children who are exposed to furry pets as infants are less likely to develop allergies.

“There are lots of studies showing that pets are good for our health,” said Rebecca Johnson, PhD, RN, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine.

Enjoying “pawsitive” energy: Several large studies suggest that Fluffy and Fido — in addition to winning your heart — can improve the way your heart works. A National Institutes of Health study of 420 adults who had suffered heart attacks showed that pooch owners were significantly more likely to still be kicking — and their tickers still ticking — one year later than were poochless patients, regardless of how serious the heart attack. In another study of 240 married couples, those who owned pets had lower heart rates and blood pressure, both at rest as well as under stress.

Your best bud can also improve your circulation. A study involving cat owners found they have fewer strokes than their feline-free counterparts. 

“The reduction in blood pressure through interaction with a companion animal has been shown in many studies,” Johnson said. “It’s practically the oldest finding we have.”  The “relaxation response” has even been shown when people kick back and watch their fish swim, she said.

Parade your pooch:  In terms of getting you off the couch and out the door, dogs have the edge. Studies show that dog owners who regularly walk their hounds lose pounds and are more physically active overall than those who don’t own or walk a dog. In addition to getting you outdoors — rain or shine — your pooch provides “social lubrication,” Johnson said. 

In other words, when you’re out walking Max, people are more likely to strike up conversations with you. And some research shows that neighborhoods where people walk dogs regularly are viewed as friendlier and safer.   

For more great information, go to www.cdc.gov/healthypets.

The Central Aroostook Humane Society thanks you for your patience during this COVID-19 shutdown. Check out our Facebook page for pets that are available for adoption. Remember to be responsible pet owners: spay and neuter.

Gloria J. Towle is the secretary and a member of the board of directors of the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

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