Pet’s enhance our lives

Pet's enhance our lives

A very happy New Year to you all! As the dark days of January descend upon us, I thought it might be timely to remember how much pleasure our pet animals give us. Dogs, cats and other pets can take a central place in the family or can be the all-important companion, maybe acting as the link to other close family members.

The beneficial effect on humans’ mental and physical health through pet ownership has been explored for over a century. In 1908 an American Colonel was hauled in front of a military tribunal, accused of mental derangement, as his dog Riley was seen to jump on the Colonel’s lap and lick his face, steal his boots and generally act in a manner that demonstrated total “disregard of the seriousness of army life”. Furthermore, Riley treated officers and enlisted men in exactly the same way! Shock horror! Luckily the tribunal took the sensible view that Riley kept the old Colonel happy and so the status quo should be tolerated.

In our modern world it’s difficult to imagine someone’s sanity being called into question simply because of affectionate displays between pet and owner. On the contrary, the benefits of a human-animal bond have been researched for over 30 years by cardiologists, psychiatrists and psychologists. For example, there is an immediate reduction in stress levels when a person interacts with a friendly dog, demonstrated by falls in blood pressure, muscle tension and the stress-associated hormones cortisol and adrenaline. As we all know, cardiovascular disease in humans feeds off stress. Research by American cardiologists has shown not only a preventative effect on hypertension through dog ownership but also benefits following actual heart problems. Survival times following heart attacks are significantly longer in pet-owning patients.

Stress is one of the great evils of our time, responsible not only for heart disease but contributing to depressive and anxiety disorders. Up to 25% of GP consultations are for these psychological problems which can be more debilitating than physical ailments. Living with a pet that you love can reduce the risk of depression four-fold. In a study of people over 60 years old who were not living with human companions, depressive illnesses were four times more common in non-pet owners compared to pet owners of the same age. Furthermore, pet owners required less medical intervention in general and were happier with their lives.

Another important aspect of dog ownership is the exercise element it brings to a person’s life. Not only is regular, moderate exercise good for you (surprise, surprise!) the social element of meeting people while walking is not to be underestimated. Many personal relationships have started at the end of a pair of dog leads!

With all the benefits of pet ownership, it’s no surprise that there are some expenses, in time, money and emotion. I think we can all agree that time with our pets is time well-spent although on a cold, wet afternoon walking the dogs across a muddy field can be less than attractive. But how nice is it curled up later with them by the fire? All pet owners need to budget for their animals and put some money away for unexpected trips to the vet but regular check-ups can alert us to developing problems and minimise expense through early diagnosis and treatment. As for the emotional investment we all make in our pets, I think it comes with the territory and as far as I am concerned, its the best investment I’ll make!

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