Ten reasons why pets are the best medicine

1: Pets encourage people to exercise

If you have a dog, you need to take it for a regular walk. It’s recommended that the average dog should be given 25 minutes of exercise twice daily, and there’s no doubt that many people would not head off down the street, into the park or along the beach if they didn’t have a dog to accompany them.

2: Pets act as social catalysts

They boost our mental health by connecting us with other people. The most obvious example of this is when you take your dog for a walk. It’s very easy for people to strike up a conversation with you by commenting on your animal (“He’s magnificent: what breed is he?”)

3: Pets are good for children

Resarch shows that children who grow up with pets are more confident and more socially adept than those without animals in their lives.

4: Pets can be especially helpful for children with psychological difficulties.

Pet therapy started in the 1960s after a psychiatrist observed the rapid progress that took place when he was accompanied by his dog in sessions with severely withdrawn children. The dog served as an ice-breaker, softening the children’s defences and providing a focus for communication.

5: Pets promote responsibility

Prison inmates who are allowed to take care of birds and small animals become less isolated, less violent and more responsible.

6: Pet-ownership reduces the risk of heart disease.

Petting a dog or a cat, or even just being in the same room as an animal, can have a calming effect on people, reducing blood pressure and heart rate.

7: They improve recovery rates after surgery

A study showed that sharing life ith a pet improved progress of human patients who had undergone major heart surgery. Patients who shared their lives with animals lived for significantly longer than those who did not keep pets.

8: Pets are helpful when dealing with psychiatric illness, including depression.

They’ve been shown to build self-esteem, increase mental alertness, and they also lift the spirits of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

9: Pets help older people to be more self-reliant.

One study measured how many hours of ‘paid care worker time’ were needed for elderly people living alone. At the start, an average of 40 hours a week of human help was needed per patient. Six months after each patient had been given a pet, the amount of carer time had reduced to about 10 hours per week.

10. Pets improve our sense of well-being

When pets are allowed to visit nursing homes, there’s a strong positive effect, with elderly residents smiling and talking more, and experiencing more symptoms of well-being. In Ireland, an organisation called PEATA (www.peata.org) offers this type of pet-therapy service.

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