My Best Friend is Hairier Than Yours
What has your pet done for you lately?
Offered you a slobbery kiss? Carried your shoes around the house as if it’s a game of hide and seek? Sat by your side constantly, pawing at you for a good petting?
If you own a pet, you have probably experienced at least one of these scenarios before. But have you ever stopped to consider how much a pet really does for you?
While there are so many positive reasons to own a pet, there is another aspect to owning pets that offers significant health benefits. So, let’s ask ourselves this question again with a fresh perspective: What has your pet done for you lately?
Lowered your cholesterol? Improved your heart condition? Helped you manage a source of significant pain? Saved your life?
Everyone’s heard about the relationships that humans share with animals. Heck, dogs are men’s best friends! But did you know that those relationships can have a significant impact on our health?
Animals are known across many areas of medicine to provide health benefits, whether that’s a lowering of cholesterol, an increase in heart health or a general increase in one’s activity levels. Not to mention the emotional support and stress relief that they offer.
I’m happy to say that I can vouch for those statements, thanks to my own experience of having a pet. Well, not exactly a pet… but…
I grew up in a household that didn’t have pets that lived in the house.
We had animals, but they were not considered a part of the family. Instead, they were around to serve some sort of purpose, such as helping with farm chores. It wasn’t until I got married that I got my first real pet; a pet that has and continues to have a strong impact on my day to day living.
My husband was raised in a house that had many pets (mostly dogs). And in his house, the dogs weren’t workers. In fact, they were basically treated like four-legged people.
They were fed dinner like humans.
They sat on the couches and watched TV at night.
And at the end of the day – their paws tired from a long day of luxury – they’d climb the beds of their owners and snore away the night.
It was as if they were kings or queens of the house!
Having grown up in this environment, my husband always wanted us to bring a pet into our house. He would tell me all about the important part they played in his upbringing. He wouldn’t be who he was, he told me, if it weren’t for his dogs.
A few months into our marriage, we got our first pet. A beautiful little Golden Retriever.
We named her Isabel (aka Izzy, Peanut Butter and Momma Bear).
I still remember the first day that we brought her into our home. That day forever changed my life – it was love at first sight.
Izzy has been my ultimate companion. She’s been there for me through the happiest and most troubling times. Being a medical student and having a husband that travels frequently for work, you can imagine that life can get hard and stressful. Izzy has been the glue to keeping things intact. She has been the one that keeps me motivated on my down days.
She licks my tears away when I’m crying.
She’s the one that gets me outside running around just so I know she had the best day she could have. She’s the one that gets me out on the water or on a hike because she lives to swim and run around in the mountains.
She loves me on my best days and she loves me on worst days. Izzy has taught me to take joy in the little treasures that each day has to offer. These examples have had a significant impact on my health and overall well-being. I am a firm believer that an animal can not only offer a friend that is forever indebted to you, but a health plan that betters you in so many aspects of your health.
I can say that even more confidently with the knowledge that I am not the only one that has benefited so greatly from owning a pet. According to a study from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, animal companions are becoming more popular than ever.
It was found that the nation’s pet population has shown a steady increase over the last half century, showing about 40 million cats and dogs in 1967 expanding to over 160 million in 2006. It is now believed that approximately two-thirds of the nation’s households owns at least one pet.
And this pet craze doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon.
More and more research continues to be done as additional benefits of owning a pet continue to be discovered. Recent research has shown that households that own pets have additional benefits for children.
Children often rely on their pets for emotional support and comfort and for the development of empathy. Researchers have also reported that children with autism have shown improved interactions with pets, which may ultimately help improve their interactions with other people.
These highlighted studies bring up another exceptional story that is personal to me.
I have a large family with many nieces and nephews. One nephew in particular had an overwhelming fear of animals, not to mention an anxiety for many things that are common activities throughout daily life. As a child, he lived life with what seemed like constant fear. He would cry and have anxiety attacks frequently. When I first introduced him to my four legged friends he would have severe anxiety attacks and commonly feared for his safety. As he got older, the anxiety and stress did not seem to improve.
Looking for ways to offer help, my sister decided she wanted to get him a dog and thought that it would help with his anxiety and the overall stress of life’s daily events. I couldn’t have agreed more, knowing what I had learned in school and experienced personally with my animals.
At first, my nephew was extremely nervous and had a challenging time. As time progressed, however, I saw a transformation in him. It was remarkable!
He not only began to love his animal, but all animals!
He began to have more confidence in himself and live life as if there was no care in the world, as all kids should. It was seeing this experience firsthand that I decided to forever cherish just how special our furry friends really are and take it upon myself to educate as many people as I could on this miraculous healing method.
So, the next time you are feeling like you're needing a boost in your health or happiness, consider getting a furry friend.
In my experience, a daily dose of dog is just what the doctor ordered.
Osteopathic Medical Student - 2nd Year (OMS II)
College of Osteopathic Medicine
Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences