Animal Magic

Not only do our pets offer love and affection, they’re also good for our health. We reveal some surprising benefits to having anything from a goldfish to a Golden Retriever.

Mental health

As a nation of animal lovers, many of us often prefer our four-legged friends to our human ones and it’s not difficult to see why. Animals offer unconditional love, companionship and fun, but did you also know that owning a pet can reduce blood pressure, alleviate depression, conquer stress and release feel-good endorphins that make you feel happy?

Among the many medical studies that show owning a pet is good for you, one pinpoints that stroking an animal prompts your brain to release endorphins or ‘feel-good hormones’. This lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and therefore helps you feel calm. So those with cats or dogs can benefit just from having them on one’s lap for a regular cuddle.

This is supported by claims that families owning a dog or cat are not as stressed and visit their doctors less often than those who don’t. And the fact that universities, such as Cambridge, have reported that ‘employing’ stress-relief animals, such as cats, dogs or guinea pigs, particularly during exam period, has been very popular and helped students with their mental health. Pet owners are also noted to be less likely to suffer anxiety and loneliness, with people who live alone but with a pet being less likely to be depressed than those without animal company.

Physical health

According to another recent study, owning a pet not only helps you to keep down stress levels, it may also help to prevent heart disease. Remarkably, studies have also shown that heart-attack victims who keep pets tend to live longer. So, even watching a tank full of tropical fish can lower blood pressure, at least for a while.

Pets that need regular exercise or walks, such as dogs, are also cited as helping people keep fit. Since you get exercise when you take them for walks or runs. Studies show that older people who own dogs are both healthier and more active than those who don’t.

To the rescue

But pets don’t just brighten up your mood or improve your health. Some could actually save your life. Many animals can warn their owners about oncoming illness and there are many reports about dogs detecting cancer, while some can identify other types of illness, such as hypoglycaemia (dangerously-low blood sugar levels) in diabetics and oncoming epileptic fits.

Take note

It doesn’t seem to matter what type of pet you have, from parrot to poodle – interaction with any animal can produce these health benefits. It could be a dog, cat, parrot, a goldfish or snake. The main thing that matters is that the animal really interests you and which you want to interact with.

But this is a key point to remember – having a pet is a two-way street. If their presence is good for us, then similarly our presence needs to be good for them. Therefore, if one decides to get a pet, particularly if their main aim is for companionship, then it is important that the pet you choose fits your temperament, lifestyle and living space, and that the chemistry is compatible before you take a pet into your home. Otherwise, it could be the source of additional stress – for both you and the animal in question.

These health benefits of owning a pet are strong reasons to get one, but consider all the options first and do your homework. Animals are a huge responsibility and although they may seem like fun, there is a lot of hard work involved as well.

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