The health benefits and risks of pet ownership
Dogs are man’s best friends for a good reason. The benefits of having a dog or cat are many, both physically and emotionally. “I believe in the benefits of owning a pet, and I am impressed by the ability of dogs to form bonds with humans. “I think science is beginning to confirm their ability to do this,” says Dr. Greg Fricchione of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine. There are several things to consider before bringing a pet into your home.
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Love and companionship are the most obvious benefits that pet ownership can bring. Dr. Fricchione says that we are mammals, and we have evolved to be best when we feel secure with one another. Dr. Fricchione says that dogs and cats provide unconditional love, which is why we feel safe around them. Dr. Fricchione says that no matter what you say or do, your cat or dog will accept you and be attached to you. When you take care of a pet, you can feel a sense of purpose. You may also get a validation feeling when you come home or wake up to a happy cat or dog.
Pet ownership can have a positive impact on your health. Dr. Fricchione says that when you feel secure with a living creature, it can have biological brain effects that reduce stress. This may impact your blood pressure, oxygen consumption, or anxiety levels. There was a study published in the journal Science that showed how the oxytocin levels in dogs and humans are increased when the dog owner looks into the eyes of their dog. It’s fascinating.” Oxytocin, one of our body’s “feel-good” chemicals, also plays a part in social bonding.
The physical benefits that come with owning a pet cat or dog are the activities required to care for it. These include playing with it or taking it on a walk. Dog walking can also have social benefits if you get to meet new people.
Pets can be a challenge to care for, and they can also pose health risks for older adults. If you have gait or stability problems and your pet is able to get under your foot or jump up, you are at risk of falling and breaking bones.
Pet ownership is not without its sanitary hazards. Animals may carry parasites that can be transmitted to humans. Cats, in particular, have a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii that can enter your brain and lead to a condition called Toxoplasmosis. People with compromised immunity are more susceptible to this. Animal feces can contain a variety of bacteria, which can cause illness. Some pet owners can have allergic reactions to dogs and cats.
What You Can Do
Consider if you are physically and mentally capable of caring for a pet. Are you able to keep track of the food that the pet needs? Are you able to play with the animal, feed it, and clean it up? If it’s a dog, can you take it on daily walks and do all of these things without getting tired or aching? Are you able to afford pet food, grooming, and veterinarian visits? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an average pet owner will spend $500 annually on their pet. However, other organizations estimate that annual pet expenses can reach as high as $1600.
Consider the size of the pet. It should not be too large or too small. Avoid puppies. They require lots of time and energy, just like a newborn baby. Consider the animal’s temperament. Dr. Fricchione says, “You do not want a dog who will bark at night or has separation anxiety when you leave your house.”
What to do if you want a pet? Dr. Fricchione suggests taking a vet or professional breeder with you when visiting a shelter. “The expert can assess which animals will have the best chances of becoming mellow pets.” Check out the Harvard Special Report Become Healthy and Get a Dog available at /DOG for more information.