Health Benefits of Owning a Pet

My pet Whiskey…  No, not the drink.  I’m talking about my furry, four-legged family member, Whiskey the cat.  Sweet, loving, adorable Whiskey.

Last summer, Whiskey got very sick.  The vet suggested that it might be time to put her down.  Oh boy, did my tears start flowing.  We began discussing the procedure over the phone.  As if she understood and wanted to say, “not yet,” Whiskey stood up on her sick wobbly legs and headed towards her water bowl.  Her legs failed her, but she raised herself again and struggled towards the water.  Seeing that, I said to the vet:  “Let’s give it another day.”  Miracles do happen.

Whiskey began drinking water on her own and then grooming herself, both encouraging developments.  And then she finally began eating on her own, and slowly gained back her weight.  I’m happy to share that she survived and is still alive!

People declare that they are either a “dog person” or a “cat person.”  Must we be one or the other?  I truly love both.  I can’t help but stop the owner of a beautiful dog, ask about its breed, and seek permission to pet it.  But I also adore the softness of a cat, their purring, and I am thoroughly entranced by the fluidity and litheness of their movements.

So where am I going with this?  As always, it’s about your health.  And today’s topic is the health benefits of owning a pet. 

Research has shown that owning a pet can lower blood pressure, reduce the incidence of allergies, increase longevity in patients with heart conditions, induce appetite in patients with depression and cancer, and benefit the mood and hence outcomes in patients in general.

Most studies have focused on the health benefits of owning a dog.  No animal requires as much time from its owner and no animal demonstrates quite the sense of devotion that a dog displays towards its master.  But cats can improve our health, too.  Cat owners were found to have a 40 percent lower risk of heart attacks than those in pet-less households.  A cat’s purr emits low-frequency vibrational energy, which is considered to be a natural healing sound that has been implicated in accelerating the body’s repair and healing mechanisms.

Research studies on pets other than dogs and cats ─horses, birds, reptiles, fish─ are far less common.  However, it’s the emotional connection with a pet that leads to health benefits in humans.  Therefore, I think it’s fair to say that any pet with which you feel an emotional bond will benefit your health and life on multiple levels.  Indeed, research shows that having a beloved pet nearby has the potential to benefit any condition that has a stress-related component.  And what do we know by now about stress and disease?  That the majority of diseases that afflict the humankind have a stress-related factor that has contributed to the disease.

As a final thought, one of the best ways to increase your happiness is to stop focusing on yourself.  Caring for a pet takes the focus off one’s self and places it on an external object of affection.  And that caring is returned in spades.  When I was dealing with a major heartbreak almost two years ago, guess who was snuggling up to me, offering her purrs of consolation?  My beloved Whiskey, of course.  She seemed to know I needed emotional support.

Although not a replacement for human interaction, the interspecies bond we form with animals taps into something deep within us.  It is immensely satisfying.  And your cat or dog accepts and loves you just the way you are.  They neither expect nor seek anything from you other than some food and space they can share with you.

Still, health considerations shouldn’t be the primary motivation for getting a pet.  They are like children (that never grow-up!) and place considerable demands on your time and finances.  So, before you adopt or buy a pet, you must be prepared to commit to your pet for its lifetime, whether it’s furry, feathered, or finned.

Have a question?  Give me a shout!  No question is ever too weird to ask Dr. Inna!

So very truly yours,

Dr. Inna



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