We all love the sense of emotional stability and unconditional love our pets bring us! They make for great companions, and have been known to reduce stress and depression. The health benefits of owning pets are innumerable. Here are three amazing ways our furry friends benefit human health.
Dogs and Immune Health
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Dogs in particular are highly beneficial for our immune health. Dogs actually share their microbiome with their human family, and may be as beneficial to our guts a probiotic supplement! People who live in the same household tend share similar strains of microbes. Research is showing that dogs and people living together all share each other’s microbiome as well, through skin and saliva. Dogs have been shown to have more surface-level microbes in common with humans than they do with other dogs, couples living together have been shown to share more microbes with each other if they had a dog living with them, and dog owners in general have more microbes in common with other dog owners.
Early exposure to dogs and the bacteria they carry can protective against the development of allergies. In one study, mice exposed to “dog dust” have been shown to pass an airway allergen challenge and had a distinct microbiome high in Lactobacillus johnsonii, a microbe associated with decreased allergies . As we know, infants and children are born with very immature immune systems, and being exposed to a large variety of microbes helps to develop a stronger immune system so the child’s gut can distinguish the difference between healthy organisms and pathogenic ones. This lessens the chance of an immune related response, such as asthma and allergies. Living with a dog can help expose the child’s immature immune system to many of these beneficial organisms, giving the child a healthy start.
Pets and Heart Health
Some of the earliest reports relating to health benefits of companion animals have been in patients who have survived coronary heart disease. One big reason for this could be that people walk their dogs, and are generally more active with pets. In one study, researchers found that among pet owners, the one-year survival was 94% as compared to 72% among those who were not pet owners . The benefits of pet ownership and heart health extend beyond the movement component of walking the pets. The improvement in mental health from having companionship could also be attributed to the decreased mortality. Owning a pet also helps to modulate the heart rate and autonomic nervous activity in patients not diagnosed with clinical cardiovascular disease, and has been associated with lower blood pressure .
Pets and Empathy
One of the most important reasons to adopt an animal? Teaching empathy. With modern disconnect, distractions, and less face-to-face communication, many of us are lacking the basic compassion and empathy skills we need to maintain healthy relationships with one another. Pets are needy and demanding. All they can “give” to us is affection, yet their needs at times are much greater than what we receive. This means we must learn to empathize. We must learn to be selfless in order to meet the needs of our pets.
Having a pet (who is dependent on us for basic needs) is a great way to teach children basic empathy and compassion from a young age. Owning a pet provides the opportunity to practice empathic abilities, which is a crucial skill for maintaining positive, loving and healthy relationships. The number of years an individual owns a pet is actually positively correlated with empathic concern, which in turn is linked to better relationships!
Simply put, pets nurture our mind, body, and soul. They teach us a great deal about life and death, and add value to our lives. On top of that, so many animals are in need of a good home. So, if you have the means to take care of a one, adopting your very own furbaby could be the best thing you do for your health and theirs.
- Fujimuraa KE, Demoorb T, & Farugia AA et al. (2013). House dust exposure mediates gut microbiome Lactobacillus enrichment and airway immune defense against allergens and virus infection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). Vol. 111 no. 2 (805-810).
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- Cloutier, A. (2016). Relationships’ Best Friend: Links between Pet Ownership, Empathy, and Romantic Relationship Outcomes. Anthrozoos. Vol 29, Issue 3. PP 395-408.