Five health benefits of owning a pet

Pets give their owners motivation to get off the couch -- one of several health benefits of owning a pet. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- Kate Penn)

Pets give their owners motivation to get off the couch — one of several health benefits of having a furry friend. (Daily Record/Sunday News — Kate Penn)

As the holidays roll around, there will be countless kids with a puppy or kitten at the top of their wishlists, and with good reason. Furry friends are known for providing their owners — children and adults alike — with an extra dose of joy and delight.

But there’s more. A growing body of research shows that owning a pet makes people both happier and healthier. Here are just a few ways playing fetch with Fido can improve your well-being — they just might convince you to add a dog or cat to your holiday shopping list this year!

1. A stronger ticker
. Several studies, including one from the Baker Medical Research Institute, have shown a correlation between pet ownership and lower levels of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels. While the research isn’t conclusive, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirms a connection between heart health and our four-legged-friends.

2. Motivation to get off the couch. No matter what the weather, dogs need to be taken out for walks, making their owners guaranteed a workout rain or shine. It should come as no surprise that a study supported by the National Institutes of Health found that people who regularly walk a dog are less likely to be obese. Pups also make fantastic exercise partners, for walking, running, hiking and more. Believe it or not, doga — defined as the practice of yoga with your pet dog — is growing increasingly popular!

3. Improved mental and emotional health. Anyone with an animal at home will attest to the fact that dogs and cats often feel less like pets and more like members of the family. As such, they can help people combat feelings of loneliness and depression by offering companionship and unconditional love. That’s why they’re often used to provide therapy to those struggling with conditions ranging from terminal illness to addiction. Pets are also great stress relievers; in a 2002 study by researchers at the State University of New York at Buffalo, participants experienced less stress when under pressure if their pets were with them.

4. Better social connections. For those who lean more toward hermit than social butterfly, a trip to the dog park is a great way to get out and meet new friends. Additionally, clinical psychologist Suzanne B. Phillips has argued we can improve our human relationships simply by modeling the way we interact with our pets. One example: the greetings we give when we walk in the door after a long day. “No matter how you feel or what mood you are in, you greet your pet with a positive, even animated hello and often with a display of physical affection,” Dr. Phillips wrote in a 2010 article. Wouldn’t it be nice if we always treated our spouse, partner, parents or children the same way?

5. Defense against allergies.
While it was previously believed that being around pets contributed to allergies among children, recent research shows that the opposite is actually true. Dr. James E. Gern, a pediatrician with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has published several studies showing that little kids who cuddle with Fluffy at home are up to 33 percent less likely to develop a pet allergy.

Has owning a pet made you healthier?

About Katie Markey McLaughlin

Katie Markey McLaughlin, M.S., is a freelance journalist and blogger who’s passionate about all things healthy living. Learn more about her writing at KatieMcLcom.
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