Many of us may imagine yoga, meditation, journaling, and long hot baths when we think of ways to reduce the stress in our lives, but a pet also has benefits for stress relief and the betterment of our health.
Our human friends can provide support and a listening ear, but may not always be available and can be judgmental. Relationships with people can also be stressful. On the other side of the spectrum, pets give unconditional love and are not judgmental. Affectionately known as “man’s best friend,” dogs and other pets have the reputation of always being there for you. But there is also increasing scientific evidence that pets can have a positive impact on stress and overall health.
Pets may provide the impetus to live for those with life threatening diseases, and they can enhance your mood. A 1999 study out of the University of California found gay and bisexual men whose HIV had advanced to AIDS were less likely to suffer from depression if they had a pet at home, compared to those who had no pet and had few confidants.
Research has also shown that heart attack victims who have pets live longer. Even watching a tank full of tropical fish may lower blood pressure, at least temporarily. A study of 92 patients hospitalized in coronary care units for angina or heart attack found that those who owned pets were more likely to be alive a year later than those who did not. The study found that only 6 percent of patients who owned pets died within one year compared with 28 percent of those who did not own pets.
The therapeutic use of pets as companions has gained increasing attention in recent years for a wide variety of patients -people with AIDS or cancer, the elderly, and the mentally ill. Unlike people, with whom our interactions may be quite complex and unpredictable, animals provide a constant source of comfort and focus for attention. Animals bring out our nurturing instinct. They also make us feel safe and unconditionally accepted. We can just be ourselves around our pets.
In a study conducted at City Hospital in New York, it was found that heart patients who owned the pets were significantly more likely to be alive a year after they were discharged from the hospital than those who didn’t own pets. The presence of a pet was found to give higher boost to the survival rate than having a spouse or friends.
How To Choose a Pet
It is extremely important to understand that owning a pet brings with it responsibility. Pets vary in level of required care, cost, and independence. Some pets are low-maintenance, less expensive to feed, and can be left at home for a few days without interaction. Cats, fish, reptiles and rodents all fall into this category.
Dogs undoubtedly present more work and increased responsibility, and the larger the dog, the more expensive it will be to feed, board when you’re going out of town, and treat with medications since doses will be higher. All of these realities should factor into your decision. What kind of pet owner do you want to be? If you enjoy walking and can afford the time and money to support a dog, go for it. If you are not keen on exercise or have limited finances, perhaps a pet that does not need walks is a better choice.
Considerations When Buying a Dog
Level of exercise: Does the amount of exercise the dog will require meet your level of desire to walk, run or bike with the dog.
Costs of caring for your dog: There are nutritional and medical costs associated with owning and caring for a dog.
Temperament: Not all dogs are friendly with people, children, or both. Assess your situation and choose wisely. Some people choose a dog for its appearance instead of its temperament, but this may be deceiving, leaving the owner with countless problems in the future.
Where you buy your dog: Buying a dog or cat from a pet store can be a big mistake. Most of these animals come from puppy mills, where the breeding animals are often treated horrendously, and they are generally rife with health issues.
Choosing a breed: The wide range of dog breeds have differing requirements for exercise. There are seven categories of dogs, each containing a number of breeds (just a few examples are given here):
- Non Sporting: Dalmatian, French Bull Dog
- Working: Rottweiler, Doberman
- Herding: German Shepherd, Border Collie
- Gundogs: Pointer, Golden Retriever
- Terriers: Jack Russel, Cairn, Yorkshire
- Hounds: Beagle, Basset, Bloodhound, Greyhound
- Toy Dogs: Pomeranian, Chihuahua, Maltese
If you have done your due diligence and astutely decided on the pet that will fit your wants and lifestyle, the outcome is splendid as dogs and other pets can bring you hours of entertainment, stress relief, and happiness.