While we celebrate the mobilization of health to stop COVID-19 and cheer the human and veterinary medical pioneers who are preserving our future, it is time to pause and thank the animals who are helping us cope. Animals are amazing partners in our lives and provide much more than just a sloppy kiss or a furry nap-partner. Read more here, as we explore the many ways that animals enrich our lives and health.

Cats prevent heart attacks!

A 20-year study showed that people who never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack! Also, people who have dogs in the home, consistently have lower cholesterol and triglyceride blood levels. This may be related to increases in daily exercise when owning a dog, but whatever the reason, animals are good for your heart health. Another large study looked at blood pressure in 240 married couples. The couples who owned pets always measured lower blood pressure than the households who were pet-less.

Our moods are improved!

Humans are happier when they own pets. Interacting with animals lowers the body’s level of cortisol, our primary stress hormone. Levels of the ‘happy hormone’, serotonin, increase substantially among pet owners. Animals help to ease depression and improve coping mechanisms among people with clinical mental health disorders.  Animals provide a means to encourage human socialization and people with pets tend to maintain a healthier body image.

Maybe we vacuum more?

Although our homes may be filled with dog and cat hair, taking care of pets improves our body health. Animals are fitness boosters! They encourage us to exercise and help us maintain healthy lifestyles. Taking an exercise class with your pet is a new trend and can combine the best of both worlds when you bond with your pet while having fun. Households that include pets will have better immune systems and fewer allergies. Children who are raised with pets are less likely to have asthma.

Animals provide service with love!

The services that animals provide for humans is endless.  Everyone has heard of  ‘emotional support dogs’, but did you know that dogs can be trained as health alarms, alerting people with diabetes or epilepsy?  Dogs perform a multitude of functions as therapy service animals, helping to retrieve, open doors and provide support for rising and walking.  Amazingly, a Mexican hairless dog called a Xolo can be trained to act as a living heating pad to service people with chronic pain.  The Xoxo generates intense body heat and provides relief to people suffering from diseases such as fibromyalgia.  Miniature horses also make good service animals, as they are smart and loving.  Plus, they are strong enough to support weight and provide balance.

Did you hear the one about the lab test and the cat scan?

No, we do not use pets as live testing equipment, but animals help us combat disease every day. Dogs can be trained to sniff out disease in human bodily fluids. The exquisite sensitivity of their olfactory system is used as a template for designing laboratory equipment that can perform the same task. But dogs consistently perform better than the machine.  With amazing accuracy, dogs will pick out cancer cells, toxins, drugs, and even viruses like COVID-19! Animals help us study cancer in people. Dogs, in particular, have been instrumental in understanding how prostate and lymphoma cancer respond to therapy. Treatments that prove successful in stopping disease are often lifesavers for people as well as animals.

Animals help us – let’s return the favor!

There is no better time than now to consider adding a pet to your life. Each year in the USA, more than 6.5 million animals end up in shelters and less than half get adopted. Fortunately, these statistics are improving yearly, as society works to reduce the number of unwanted pets, and individuals increasingly turn to rescue organizations to find a forever family member. Our lives continue to change and your home office may be a perfect place for a furry companion. Enrich your life with a pet – you could get healthier!

References:
American Cancer Society: “Man’s Best Friend.”
American Diabetes Association, Diabetes Forecast: “Could a Dog Save Your Life?”
CDC: “Health Benefits of Pets,” “Physical Activity and Health.”
Epilepsy Foundation: “Seizure Dogs.”
Johnson, R. Oncology Nursing Forum, March 2008.
Merck Veterinary Manual: “Health Benefits of Pets for People.”
National Stroke Association: “The Healing Power of Animals.”
NIH News in Health: “Can Pets Help Keep You Healthy?”
PetEducation.com: “Assistance and Service Dogs,” “Physical and Medical Health
Benefits of Pets.”
Princeton University, Research at Princeton: “Cancer collaboration could someday
help dogs and their humans.”
Qureshi, A. Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology, January 2009.
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health: “Infants Exposed to
Dogs Less Likely to Develop Allergic Diseases.”