Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Pets and Your Health

A very sad thing happened in my family last week, followed by a very happy one. 

My parents' dog Chelsea, who was approaching 13 years old, developed pneumonia and congestive heart disease and had to be put to sleep.  While my parents had firmly decided that Chelsea would be their last dog, plans tend to change upon being stricken with the grief and sadness that accompanies losing a cherished family member.  And a few days later, this little nugget was being welcomed into the family:

Mandy is a 6-week old West Highland White Terrier and I'm absolutely obsessed with her cuteness.  But I knew I would be, since I come from a family of pet-lovers.  Growing up, our house was a zoo.  There were pets of every kind... from dogs and cats, to birds, fish, turtles, frogs, and even hermit crabs.  So it was no surprise that my parents, even now in their 70s, decided to get another puppy.


Today, I have one pet of my own (unless you count the mold growing in the back of my fridge).  My cat Rocky has provided me with unconditional love and companionship over the past five years. While Rocky has undoubtedly helped my mental health (especially on bad days where all I needed was a cuddle or a laugh from something cute he was doing), pets have actually been known to inprove your physical health as well. 

Dogs can get you moving every day, since they need to be walked, but even a cat can provide you with a little exercise when they want to play.  Rocky and I like to chase each other around the house.  (Well, I enjoy it anyway.  He usually just looks bored and annoyed, as he does in the pic on the left.)  Having a pet gives you a routine to follow. You can't lay around being lazy all day when you have a pet to care for... and their cute little furry faces will constantly remind you of that fact.

Partly due to the mental well-being they cause in their human owners, pets have also been proven to lower blood pressure, increase longevity in those who've had heart attacks, and even help relax Alzheimer's patients.  "Any disease or condition that has a stress-related component to it, we believe pets could ameliorate stress and moderate the situation," said biologist Erika Friedmann, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing.  Midland Insurance Company even considers pet ownership in their medical screenings to determine their policy holders' level of health.

For those who aren't ready to take the leap into pet ownership, animal shelters often allow you to walk a dog on a regular basis or foster a pet in need.  Contact or your local shelter to inquire about these programs.

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