While you may not realize it, pets can provide enormous health benefits to those around them. Beyond the companionship they present us with, pets can encourage the adoption of a healthy lifestyle. Additionally, caring for our animal friends has proven to nurture mental health and alleviate anxiety. The Medical Station advocates and offers services for physical and mental health – thus it seems appropriate to discuss how our pets may do the same.
Pets Promote Physical Health
Owning and caring for an animal can improve the overall function and fitness of your body. Studies indicate a positive correlation between owning active outdoor pets, such as dogs, and increased physical activity. Through an increase in the number and duration of recreational outings, prompted by the care of these pets, pet owners are more likely to achieve levels of physical activity recommended for maintaining good health.
Evidence shows that pet ownership is related to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers have found a link between care of pets and lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (harmful heart disease agents). It was even shown that pet owners affected by cardiovascular disease are more likely to survive heart attacks.
Pets can contribute to the prevention and management of other chronic diseases as well. Diabetes risk has been shown to diminish with increased attention to a pet’s own physical health. Additionally, animals prevent autoimmune disease and hypersensitivities in children, decreasing the likelihood of asthma and allergies in families with a history of such ailments.
Pets even have a connection to pain relief, acting as a supplement to pain medication following surgeries. These examples represent only a few of the many methods by which pets can improve our physical health.
Pets Promote Mental Health
The affection and companionship expressed by pets has profound effects on mental well-being as well. Isolation and loneliness can often lead to depression and other mental illnesses, the presence of a pet, however, reduces these risk factors.
Dogs specifically have been shown to ease people out of shyness and boost self-esteem. Pet ownership has been proven to prevent and reduce anxiety, as pets offer therapeutic comfort and affection by lowering blood pressure and stress. Just petting an animal provides incredible stress relief, fulfilling the human need to touch and inducing a calming sensation.
To capitalize on these benefits, organizations and associations have set up services and workshops in which people can interact with pets specially trained to provide therapeutic services to those around them. These programs range from bringing therapy dogs to workplaces, to puppy rooms set up in universities during exam times.
Can Humans & Pets Make Each Other Sick?
Cold and flu viruses are species specific – meaning that each species is infected and affected by a different strain of these viruses (though there is some overlap). For example, you can’t catch a cold or the flu from your dog (and vice versa), however, there may be overlapping strains with your cat.
Your pet’s diarrhea could be contagious, depending on the cause of their diarrhea, so be sure to wash your hands after coming in contact with pet feces. Also be weary with dog saliva in your mouth or open wounds, especially if you are immune-compromised – though it’s not necessarily harmful, there have been cases of bacterial transmission.
All of this being said, you are more likely to get sick from another person than your pet!
The Medical Station’s Efforts Towards Physical and Mental Health
It’s hard to deny the profound impacts that pets can have on our lives. They provide physical and psychosocial support that improves our overall well being. Pets, however, should not replace physical and mental health care services, whether it be for prevention or treatment.
The Medical Station, located in North York, offers a range of services in order to address a variety of health needs our diverse patients and clients face - whether it is our exercise & movement services to increase physical activity in your life, our comprehensive physician services addressing your health needs, or our social work services providing compassionate support.