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Pets are good for your health

Posted by on in Allergy
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160913PetsGoodHealth-325For years, I've heard about how pets can help lower stress, which can improve your body and your mind. And I've always wondered, is this really true?

In my personal experience, I have found that having pets at home does decrease my stress, gets me out of the house to walk, gives me joy when I see them play—and I just adore coming home to someone so excited to see me. Seeing the wagging tail and hearing the happy sounds my dog makes when I return is really comforting, and it always brings a smile to my weary face.

Even the cats, who some characterize as antisocial, come to see me and rub against my legs, asking for attention, and come sit on my lap, offering comforting purring sounds. As a nurse, I've heard countless stories from patients describing the many ways their pets help them.

But is there any science behind pets and the comfort they provide? If so, are there other benefits they can offer their human companions?

The answer is: Yes, there is science behind pets providing comfort, decreasing stress and blood pressure, and improving a person's overall well-being—and pets have even been known to diagnose health problems, as well. Science has shown that living with an animal, such as a dog or cat, increases the chance you will live healthier and longer than those without a pet.

Three studies were evaluated in 2011, and showed that everyday people who have pets experience greater well-being, increased self-esteem, have healthier personality characteristics, are less fearful, less preoccupied, less depressed, less lonely, happier, as well as enjoy social support and the deflection of negativity due to rejection, according to McConnell & Brown, 2011.

In fact, one study showed that cat owners were 30 percent less likely to die from a heart attack.

We are all familiar with medical service dogs that provide assistance to the blind or the visually impaired, but did you know dogs can sniff out cancer? Medical service dogs have been trained to sense oncoming seizures in those with epilepsy and low blood sugar in diabetics, detect a food allergen, like peanut in a cookie, give an alert when blood pressure is high, identify a dangerous bacteria called clostridium difficile, as well as detect cancer cells in those with breast cancer, bladder cancer, skin cancer, and lung cancer (PBS, 2010; BMJ, 2012).

Furthermore, research has shown that early childhood exposure to pet dander may decrease the incidence of asthma, allergies and eczema. It is established that children who grow up on farms have lower allergy and asthma rates. Johns Hopkins Medicine recently confirmed these findings and stated that the benefits were seen if the child's first encounters with the allergens occurred before a child's first birthday.

If, however, your sweet pet causes you itching and sneezing, there are solutions. See your allergist to discuss medication options or immunotherapy—allergy shots can decrease and even cure allergies to your pets.

So, yes, pets are good for your health, I could not imagine my life without them. Adopt one today and improve your well-being!

Tagged in: Allergies Pets

Melanie Chala Wayne, MSN, FNP-BC is a nurse practitioner for Oak Street Medical and Oregon Allergy Associates.