Q: My friend (she’s a nurse) was telling me all the health benefits of having a pet. I couldn’t believe what she was telling me and all the ways that pets are being used in the hospitals and nursing homes to help the patients. I thought you might want to share with your readers. P.L., Farragut
A: Your friend is absolutely right. Over the last 20 to 25 years, researchers at places like the Centers of Disease of Control and the National Institute of Health have been studying how pet ownership and companionship have many human health benefits.
For children, pet ownership has shown to increase self-esteem, empathy and self-responsibility. Pets can help children cope with serious family situations, such as illness or divorce.
With pets present, many children have less stress and anxiety during doctor’s visits. My pediatrician often has her dog with her at work, and it certainly works with my kids.
For adults, many studies show better overall health and psychological well-being as compared to non-pet owners.
The health benefits are even more for those owners who regularly walk his/her pet. Since walking the dog often involves the whole family, the benefits include increased physical activity and quality family time.
Studies consistently show lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels as additional benefits of pet ownership.
Trained dogs and cats can now be found across the country in many different settings. You may see a dog at the hospital waiting with a patient for test results or sitting with a child reading at school.
You may see another sitting with a physical therapy patient at a rehabilitation center or a cat sitting in the lap of a senior at a nursing home.
Studies consistently show less anxiety in the above situations. I believe we will continue to see pets more often in these settings — and likely in additional ways in the future.
If you have questions about pet ownership or animal assisted therapy programs in our area, e-mail Dr. Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.