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Studies show pet ownership can improve health

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Pet owners instinctively know pets make life better. 

With roughly half of all households in the United States owning at least one dog, (the most popular pet), science has undertaken the task of proving what pet owners already know.

Researchers in Sweden, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States continue to expand public understanding about the health benefits of pet ownership - benefits that can begin prenatally and extend over an entire lifespan. 

A 13 percent decrease in asthma has been found in children exposed to a dog during the first year of life. Exposure to furry pets early in infancy (and even prenatally), increases two gut bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillopira. Ruminococcus has been linked to fewer allergies in children while Oscillopira is associated with a decrease in a risk for obesity. The simple act of early exposure to pets might mitigate a lifetime of suffering.

Pets don’t argue or disagree. They provide unconditional affection and are loyal, non-judgmental companions. In the “Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology,” researchers discovered that children felt their relationship with a pet was more supportive than that with a sibling. Pets provide fewer emotional upsets, commonly experienced in human interactions. 

Young people dealing with the trauma of a deployed parent may especially benefit from a strong connection with a pet. Teens reported their pets provide solace and consistency when dealing with stressors such as moving from one school  or one home to another. Pet-owning teens were also found to be more empathetic and socially connected. 

Clinical depression in people aged 60 and older is less likely for those who have a pet. A wagging tail and a happy bark can be fun to come home to. Seniors with pooches were even found to make fewer doctor visits.

Mental health issues of many kinds are better managed by pet owners who receive encouragement and companionship from their furry friends. Pets provide distraction from troubles and provide the need for a predictable routine. Buffalo University conducted a study that showed people are less easily stressed and recover more quickly from work-related stress when their pets are with them. The American Heart Association produced research that showed physical benefits associated with pet ownership included less risk of cardiovascular disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some of the health benefits of owning a pet include decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, feelings of loneliness and increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities as well as socialization.

Owning a pet can be an excellent ice-breaker for shy or isolated people. There is evidence to suggest that people are more likely to trust someone who cares for and owns a pet. 

Author Shanna Johnson described life-lessons she’s learned from her tiny dog; lessons most any one could benefit from. Her one-eyed mutt, adopted after being injured and abandoned, enthusiastically embraces his challenges, regardless of the number of depth-perception caused mishaps he has. He doesn’t let his past failures get in the way of trying again. Each day he wakes up and engages in activities identical to those of previous weeks, months and years, never letting what some might consider mundane to diminish his attention to the current moment. He excitedly greets Johnson with affection, regardless of whether she’s been gone three minutes or all day. Johnson said she has learned from her little friend, that previously endured hardships are in the past and that each new day is worth investing in with eagerness and a heart full of love. 


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