How Our Furry Friends Improve Our Health

Adopting and owning a pet can be a double-edged sword. They can be high maintenance, expensive and a pain in the butt to clean up after, but what we humans get in return is well worth it. Numerous medical studies have cited that pets not only provide their owners with social interaction, companionship and exercise, but they can also help relieve stress and lower blood pressure.

relieve stress and lower blood pressure
Darcy and Tucker: Although I am a die-hard cat person, the occasional dog or two has won me over.

Dogs and cats can vastly improve their human companions’ physical and mental health, but even horses, birds, turtles and fish can make a difference in their owners’ lives.  Here’s how adopting a pet can improve your life:

Daily Exercise

Nebby: Named after Nebula, a Pokemon character.

I do not like dogs – there, I said it. However, my cold, dog-disliking heart has somewhat softened lately towards little dogs.  Maybe it’s because I know a lot of people who own little dogs. Aside from my opinion on dogs, walking one daily can provide heart-healthy physical activity people may not otherwise get. And dog owners often have the chance to interact with other humans on a regular basis, as people walking their dogs typically appear friendly and approachable. One of my friends and her kids recently moved into a new house and adopted a Shih Tzu, from the Animal Hospital of Cambridge. The little dog, her daughter aptly named Nebby, has helped them get to know their neighbours when they take her out for walks.

Another enjoyable, albeit more expensive, animal that can provide its owner with regular exercise is a horse, of course. Horses are beautiful and gentle creatures and anyone who has gone horseback riding knows it is a great work out for your thighs and glutes. When I worked as a reporter, in a time when Breaking News arrived daily on your front stoop in the form of a newspaper, one of my favourite assignments was writing a feature article on the local horseback riding stables. 

Lowering Blood Pressure

relieve stress and lower blood pressure
Oscar and Meeps: I was blessed (and cursed) with the companionship of two kitties last week.

Did you know that petting a cat can help lower your blood pressure?  Stroking a cat is calming and those who own cats (or other animals) are more likely to have lower blood pressure than non pet owners, according to a State University of New York at Buffalo study.

Lowering your blood pressure, though, likely also depends on the personality of your pet. I had a cat named Mokie who would allow me to pet her, but after a few minutes of stroking her fur, she would give me a warning look. If I ignored that look, to my peril, I would end up with a bite on my hand. Despite this, I loved that evil little cat and was devastated when she died.

I adopted my current kitty, Meeps, from Toronto Animal Services about a month after Mokie died. I had seen her photo online and went there looking specifically for her. As I walked into the room where they kept the cats that were up for adoption, all I could hear was meowing. I was in tears as I walked towards the back of the room. And there she was – sitting in a cage, meeping at me. As I started to pet her through the bars, she began eating the kibble in her bowl. I should have known she was destined to be a fat cat!

Petting Meeps seems to have a soothing effect on her and helps me alleviate any strains of the day.

Relieving Stress

Having a pet can help reduce the stress in your life. Along with many psychological benefits, the ability to take care of an animal can help you feel better and reduce your level of stress.

Social Interaction

Anyone with a pet knows that if they are capable of reaching your front door, they will be the first ones to greet you when you walk through it. Pets and therapy animals like dogs and horses have also been known to boost social skills in children with autism. For those of us who love our pets, it’s difficult to stay in a bad mood when your cat rubs up against your leg, or your dog jumps into your lap. It enhances a sense of well-being and can provide much-needed camaraderie.

Feathery Companionship

Sunny: My younger sister and my parents love their budgie.

When I was a kid, my family had a tankful of tropical fish. I spoke to and named each and every one of them. One of my friends had a pet turtle that he very creatively named Turtle. It had its own distinct personality and kept him company before he got married.

Feathery friends can also be important members of any family. Turtle’s owner and his wife had a pet cockatiel named Otto. The cockatiel would acknowledge them with a “hello” when they walked into a room.  My younger sister and parents’ have a budgie named Sunny. He greets them when they get up in the morning and chirps back at them when he’s spoken to. Personally, the sound of chirping drives me nuts. It’s probably why I always rooted for Sylvester to gobble up Tweety Bird. You also can’t exactly hug a bird. But if you like them they can provide you with social interaction and companionship.

So the next time you’re feeling lonely or out of sorts, you might want to consider adopting a furry (or scaly or feathery) friend. Animal shelters are often filled to capacity with dogs and cats (and other animals) looking for homes. Here is a list of shelters where you just might find the next member of your family and improve your health to boot!


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