More than once a patient has brought their pet into my acupuncture clinic for a visit (not a treatment). I have had visitors in the form of pocket-sized dogs, spaniels and bulldogs, and even a bird (no cats to date, though). I grew up with lots of animals–from turtles and gerbils to cats, dogs, and even horses, and appreciate the presence of pets in my life.
While animal companions are a positive presence, there is also considerable research that pets have the ability to improve your health. Some of the physical benefits of spending time with a pet include:
-They can enhance your mood. Time spent watching fish or playing with your cat actually lowers the stress hormone cortisol. As a result, having Fido or Tigger at home can help with depression, decrease stress, and produce calming effects. In addition, caring for your pet is a way to “switch the channel” away from your problems and focus on another being.
-Pets can improve your heart health. The calming effects of owning a pet can help regulate high blood pressure and decrease cholesterol.
-If you’re a dog owner, you can thank your pooch for the fitness points gained every time you take him for a walk.
-While there are many people who are allergic to animal dander, there is research that suggests that kids who grow up around pets actually have better immunity than kids who aren’t exposed to pets.
-Pets offer companionship. The negative health implications of loneliness and isolation are well-documented. Pets offer a positive presence for those who are housebound or socially isolated.
Beyond the positive effects on your health, our animal companions have much to teach us about living life to the fullest. Among their lessons:
-Animals live in the moment. Your cat is not rehashing events from the past, and isn’t thinking about the future either. While animals have memory, they pretty much live in the right now.
-Your pet, especially if it’s a dog, is all about loyalty. When I was a kid, we had a little cocker spaniel, Rippy, who walked us kids to the bus stop every day. In the afternoons when the bus dropped us off, there was Rippy waiting patiently. Dogs can be the most incredibly loyal critters on the planet.
-Pets are the only beings that are truly able to just listen. They’re not thinking about what to say next or how to deliver a snarky comment. They. Just. Listen.
-Animals are very forgiving. Your kitty is not holding a grudge for that day you forgot to scoop out the litter box, and your pup won’t love you less if you get home an hour late–in fact, she’ll be even more excited to see you when you walk through the door.
-Finally, animals teach us those lessons we tend to forget about playing with abandon. They’re not self-conscious and aren’t afraid to look silly. They have the ability to make us laugh, which is golden.