In decades past, pet parents only looked to dogs for basic companionship for their kids, security and guard watch over their homes or occasional strolls in the park on a beautiful sunny day. Now, however, many pet parents have included these furry four-legged friends into their homes for overall health and wellness and to reduce anxiety and mood disorders. Yes, a pet a day will keep the doctor away! Pets are proving to be just the medicine we need to combat those ailments that could once only be healed through traditional medicine.

Owning a Pet Can Actually Improve Your Health – Dog vs. Prozac?

Studies today are showing that more and more people are healthier due to the fact that they have an animal (or two) in their household. Did you know that when you pet a dog a hormone called oxytocin is released? Yes, this hormone is known to reduce blood pressure and decrease levels of cortisol, thus reducing anxiety and stress! Some doctors even claim that pets can have the same effect on patients as taking Prozac. Have you had your petting session today?

“According to statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), depression affects about nine percent of adult Americans. This translates into about 27 million people.”1

According to HABRI.org, a human and animal bond research initiative foundation, mental disorders such as depression can actually be treated with animal-assisted therapy. This should come as no surprise for all of you animal lovers out there. Pets always seem to brighten our day and make us smile!

“The comfort that these animals provide is beneficial. Pets are always “on tap” with their unconditional love and are wonderful cure for loneliness.

If fact, doctors frequently recommend pets to patients who feel lonely.”1

Bella – The Perfect Medicine

President and CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, Peter Ashenden is a wonderful example of how pets can truly improve our health and mental wellness. Ashenden is known for toting his 17-pound Shih Tzu, Bella, around the office and social events. “Bella goes everywhere with me, whether it be a gala or board meetings,” he says. “She is my companion. By having Bella with me, it brings a piece of home with me wherever I go.”2

So you’re probably wondering why an executive professional – president and CEO – would tote a little dog with him everywhere he goes, right? Well, Ashenden has bipolar disorder and Bella helps to maintain her pet owner’s mood at a steady level.

How Bella Keeps Ashenden Healthy

Ashenden has said that Bella helps him treat his depression and enhance his overall wellness in numerous ways, including:

  • Fitness: Bella forces him to remain active even when his depression flares up. “No matter what’s going on with me, that’s something that requires I get out of the house – these activities help me remain engaged.2
  • Social: Bella keeps Ashenden from feeling socially withdrawn. “Sometimes going out of your comfort zone can be difficult – Bella helps break that ice for me.”2
  • Companionship :Bella provides constant companionship. “I’m never alone. One of the symptoms of depression is that people isolate and tend to withdraw.”2

Research – Interaction is Key

Researchers have discovered that interaction with pets, regardless of whether or not they belong to you, can reduce anxiety, ease blood pressure and heart rate as well as balance feelings of depression. Now, who wouldn’t want those amazing benefits of owning or engaging with pets?! Researchers have noted that in order to reap optimal wellness, direct contact with an animal is necessary to achieve psychological benefit.

When people were shown pictures of adorable pets as part of recent research studies, they did not experience the same decrease in symptoms of depression as those who were able to interact with and touch the animals.

“Dogs in particular, give people a reason to get out and about because they need regular daily walks. Thus they are also conversation initiators, helping to alleviate social isolation. Further, pets require daily responsibility to meet their basic needs such as food and water and they bring structure to a person’s daily activities.”1

Therapy Animals

If you’re interested in bringing a therapy animal into your life, there are several organizations that can assist you in locating the right animal, including the Animal Humane Association and the Delta Society. There are also several local organizations that can assist you depending on your region. You’ll want to inquire about the amount of training that the animals and animal handlers undergo.

Pets can help us live healthier lives and even reduce the anxiety and treat depression in our everyday lives. Doctor’s orders: Be sure to visit your local shelter this week and find that special four-legged companion that is sure to enhance your overall health and wellness and, thus adding years to your life!

For more information and research on the human-animal bond, check out the below link to HABRI.org.

Sources:

  1. http://www.habri.org/depression
  2. http://www.everydayhealth.com/depression/pet-therapy-and-depression.aspx

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