health benefits of pet ownershipFor those of us who are pet-loving owners, our fury friends are truly a member of our family. They are bathed, brushed, fed, cleaned up after, talked to, laughed with, hugged tight, taught well, walked, slept with, brought to parks, beaches, the doctor’s for checkups, and even on family vacation.

Indeed, owning a pet sounds like a lot of work that would add undo stress to an already busy lifestyle. But, for all we give pets, they give us more than just unconditional love and dedication. What are the effects of pets on human health?

For nearly 25 years research has shown that living with pets provides certain health benefits. Pets help lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety. They boost our immunity, provide aid and companionship, and can even help you get dates.

Can Pets Reduce Allergies and Asthma?

There are many people with known allergies to pets. Breeds such as poodles and certain terriers may be better for those with allergies. Breeds that shed less are more likely to be hypoallergenic, since the dog’s dander and saliva stick to the hair and are not released into the environment. How hypoallergenic a particular dog is for a particular person may vary with the individual dog and the individual person.

Until recently it was thought that growing up with pets may increase a child’s case of developing allergies to pets. However, a growing number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with “furred animals”, or on a farm exposed to large animals, will have less risk of allergies and asthma.

According to a recent study by James E. Gern MD, University of Wisconsin-Madison, if a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies (19% verses 33%), were less likely to have eczema, and had higher levels of some immune.

Good for the Heart, Mind and Soul

“People in stress mode get into a ‘state of dis-ease’, in which harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine can negatively effect the immune system,” says Blair Justice, PhD, University of Texas School of Public Health.

Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine – nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties.

“The human-animal bond bypasses the intellect and goes straight to the heart and emotions and nurtures us in ways that nothing else can,” said Karin Winegar, whose book “Saved: Rescued Animals and the Lives They Transform” (Da Capo, 2008) chronicles human-animal interactions.

Read More: Exploring the Health Benefits of Pets, which explores how a young autism child has shown remarkable results with his pet, Chad. The New York Times, October 5, 2009, by Carla Baranauckas.

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