Dr. Rebecca Amstutz is an experienced Certified Animal Chiropractor at Perpetual Motion throughout the Twin Cities. This article was written by Dr. Amstutz for all the pet lovers out there.
The majority – almost 70% – of households in the United States own at least one pet. And most pet owners don’t need to be told that animals make them feel good. In fact pets can make us healthy and help us stay that way. You might be surprised at how many ways pet ownership can impact your health.
Numerous studies provide evidence that pets favorably impact our emotional and physical health, diminish the effect of chronic illnesses and enhance quality of life.
Emotional Health Enhanced by Pets
Pets are natural mood enhancers. When you spend time with a cat or dog or watch fish swim, your body actually experiences physical changes that impact your mood. Serotonin, a chemical related to well-being, increases and cortisol, a hormone associated with stress decreases.
No one loves you more unconditionally than your pet. Petting an animal has a calming effect, so therapists have been known to recommend interacting with animals as a way of dealing with and recovering from depression.
Pet owners have a tendency to want to talk with other pet owners. Staying engaged with others is key to a healthy mind. Have you noticed that a dog within view is a conversation waiting to happen? Dog people will naturally stop and talk with other dog owners.
Animals in homes of people with Alzheimer’s or AIDS not only help the patients feel less depressed and have fewer anxious episodes, but the animals also help caregivers feel less burdened.
Physical Health Enhanced by Pets
Having a pet can help you manage your blood pressure. One study demonstrated that pet owners have lower blood pressure and heart rates than non-pet owners. Another study showed children with hypertension actually lowered their blood pressure by petting a dog.
Dogs and cats are good for your heart. Research has shown the long-term benefits of owning a cat include protection for your heart. Over the 20 years of one study, people who never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who had. Another study showed that dog owners had a significantly better survival rate one year after a heart attack. Overall, pet owners have a lower risk of dying from any cardiac disease, including heart failure.
Researchers have found that when children grow up in a home with a dog or cat they are less likely to develop allergies. The same is true for kids who live on a farm with large animals. In addition, higher levels of certain immune system chemicals show a stronger immune system, which will help keep them healthy as they get older.
Pet allergies are one of the most common triggers of asthma; however, research has shown that people who lived with cats as infants were less likely to develop asthma as they got older, with one exception: children whose mothers are allergic to cats are three times more likely to develop asthma with early exposure to cats.
Pet owners can diminish osteoporosis and arthritis with their pets. Walking your dog, a weight-bearing exercise that strengthens bones and muscles, helps defend against osteoporosis. Cat owners can mimic their cat’s stretches throughout the day as a reminder to stretch frequently. Coordinate taking medications, stretching and even doctor/veterinary appointments as a way manage both your pet’s and your own arthritis.
Some rehab programs for stroke patients use horses to help with recovery. Often, people who have had strokes start riding with someone walking alongside them as someone else leads the horse. Horseback riding gives stretching exercise, which is especially good if one side has been made weaker. It also helps the person regain balance and build core strength.
Fitness and Diet Health
People who own dogs are less obese and more physically active than people who do not. It is common to walk with your dog, but other forms of exercise can be shared – with mutual benefit. Hold a flashlight or string while you do step aerobics and watch your cat participate. Doga (yoga classes for people and their dogs) are becoming more popular, with regular classes offered at some centers.
Quality of Life
There are a number of chronic conditions for which pets are being trained as health aides. For example, some dogs can alert their owner with diabetes of a dangerous drop in blood glucose before the person actually senses the change. Similarly, some dogs are trained to alert their owners prior to the onset of epileptic seizures or to perform specific functions for people with Parkinson’s or physical and mental disabilities.
Humans are benefiting from new research on pet cancers; both dogs and cats can get the same kinds of cancer that humans do. Treatment therapies are customized based on successful outcomes for pets.
Working with and caring for a pet can help children with ADHD. Playing releases excess energy. Pet care responsibilities on a schedule can help the child learn to plan. Also, the unconditional love a pet provides helps the child with ADHD learn about self-esteem.
Pets are used with children with autism to help address sensory issues like touch, smell and sound. Children usually find the animals hold their attention, while also providing a sense of calm.
Additionally, pets are enhancing quality of life for patients requiring therapy after a stroke or brain injury and in hospitals and nursing homes.
There you have it. Four ways in which our health is enhanced by pets.
Dr. Rebecca Amstutz, DC, CVSMT has been treating Twin Cities’ pets since 2010. The emphasis at Perpetual Motion Animal Chiropractic is to provide a natural method of overall health and healing for pets. Newborn to senior, small to large, park walker to competitive athlete — her goal is that each pet enjoys a comfortable, healthy and active life.