No one is quite sure when man began to domesticate animals and keep them as companions instead of just for food or work.Historians do know that the ancient Romans kept dogs and birds and Buddhist monks were known to raise ornamental goldfish in ponds dating back to the seventh century.
Dogs were probably the first animals to be domesticated and it is believed that, at first, only the very wealthy were able to indulge in the practice. Over time, pet ownership has become popular in all classes and cultures and the variety of animals kept has broadened as well. And, while household pets are universally extolled as a great source of entertainment and affection, science has begun to explore just how important our animal companions can be for our health. In many cases, a trusted pet can be a matter of life and death.
Your Pet As Therapist
Most of us understand the responsibility we have to care for our pets as compensationfor their companionship. Few of us realize just how much they improve our well-being, just by being them.
Here are five reasons to give your furry, feathered or scaly friend an extra hug for the healthy tonic they bring into your life every day:
- Cardiovascular Health – Numerous studies have demonstrated that pets reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and strokes in their humans. Reduced cholesterol, triglycerides and systolic blood pressure are associated with having a pet. Moreover, studies link a higher long-term survival rate after a cardiac event to people who live with a pet in their home.
- Reduced Asthma/Allergy Risk – This one seems counter-intuitive. It has always been assumed that pets, especially cats and dogs, caused and/or aggravated allergies and asthma in young children. According to a recent study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, children who grow up in a household having pets are less likely to develop allergies, asthma and eczema. Moreover, the tests indicated that these same children had higher amounts of certain blood chemicals that indicate greater immune system activation.
- Mood Enhancement – Stress causes the release of harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine into the bloodstream. These chemicals are linked to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. Playing with your dog or cat will not only reduce or halt the production of these bad chemicals, it will elevate your levels of the “happy drugs” (serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin), resulting in a sense of well-being and improved mood.
- Personal Training – This is a no-brainer. Taking your dog for a brisk walk, two or three times a day, will help you maintain a higher level of fitness and reduce your risk for obesity and its associated diseases. It will probably reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease and should improve your general mood as well.
- Health Support – Dogs can detect the chemical changes that signal epileptic seizures and diabetic coma before the human patient can. These animals are being trained to warn their companion of an impending episode and/or signal for help and protect them from injury when an attack cannot be prevented. Service animals are also being used to detect breast and lung cancers with a high degree of accuracy.
- Social Director – As we climb deeper into our high-tech cocoons, we shrink farther away from human interaction. Pets are a good excuse to get out of the house and they are great conversation starters. So, when you find yourself huddled in front of your laptop, take the dog for a walk in the park. Chances are you will meet someone nice the old-fashioned way – in person.
These are just a few of the many ways in which pets can enhance our lives and health. Research continues to add to the growing list; yet no scientific study is needed for us to know that having a pet to love just feels wonderful.