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6 Health Benefits of Having Pets

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6 Health Benefits of Having Pets

About 65 percent of American households have pets, and we spend nearly $35 billion dollars a year on these companion animals. (Lucky dogs.) Our pets clearly have us wrapped around their little paws, but what do we get from them in return? There are the obvious answers–companionship, unconditional love, a best friend, some slipper-fetching. But there are also a number of unseen benefits with far-reaching effects: Pets are great for our health.

Pets can help us to heal emotionally, physically, and mentally, but scientists are also discovering that cats and dogs can help fight disease and assist us in coping with chronic conditions. They can have a biochemical impact on their owners’ body chemistry. Numerous medical experts have provided the results of scientific studies that support this biological basis for what we’ve felt intuitively. Here are some of the ways in which pets can have a positive effect on our health.

1. Pets Lessen the Risk of Allergies & Asthma
Counterintuitive, at first, but it makes perfect sense. “The old thinking was that if your family had a pet, the children were more likely to become allergic to the pet. And if you came from an allergy-prone family, pets should be avoided,” says researcher James E. Gern, MD, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. But a number of new studies suggest that kids growing up in a home with “furred animals”–which can include cats and dogs, as well as farm animals–will have less risk of allergies and asthma.

In his recent study, Gern analyzed the blood of babies immediately after birth and one year later. He was looking for evidence of an allergic reaction, immunity changes, and for reactions to bacteria in the environment. If a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies. They also were less likely to have eczema; and they had higher levels of some immune system chemicals–a sign of stronger immune system activation. This sounds similar to the concepts explored in the hygiene hypothesis.

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Read more: Allergies, Caregiving, Cats, Dogs, General Health, Health, Mental Wellness, Pets, Stress, ,

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.

851 comments

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8:49AM PDT on Jul 16, 2015

I know I'm healthier because of my Service Dog & my Cat! I used to bring my 3 Dogs to a Nursing Facility for people with terminal illnesses (My Mom had Alzheimer's) and it was amazing to see the way people lit up with smiles and laughter and even began speaking after looking so sad & detached! Animals are Wonderful Therapy! Thank you for this article!

5:27PM PDT on Jun 21, 2015

I miss my dogs.... :(

9:38AM PDT on May 1, 2015

Thanks for sharing.

6:54AM PDT on Apr 24, 2015

ty

4:50AM PDT on Apr 24, 2015

lovely

8:39AM PDT on Apr 20, 2015

My thinking exactly

7:57PM PDT on Apr 13, 2015

Great stories, Great Pictures, Great Advice, Great Day with so much purrrrr-fecttttt love.

7:54PM PDT on Apr 13, 2015

Wouldn't be without my cat he just the purr-fect company, 24/7. Thank you for sharing.

11:45AM PDT on Jun 23, 2014

I know that some of the residents at the nursing home where I volunteer really enjoy visiting animals. There is even a "country day" where small farm animals are brought in, particularly into the courtyard... I even arranged miniature horses one year... they were a bit hit.

12:35PM PST on Mar 2, 2014

My cats have changed my life for the better in every way. Nothing can replace the unconditional love I get from them, When I get home from work they are waiting for me at the door and when I open the door they are both there with little bodies arched, tails straight up and quivering with excitement. I usually throw my bags down and drop to the floor and they fly into my arms....It's priceless.

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