There’s no companion like a pet

I have always known that owning a pet was good for you. Most pets are more than property — they are part of the family. Part of the home.

As companions, dogs, cats and even exotic pets such as small animals, fish, birds or reptiles, can bring life into a home. This is especially important when other humans are not around. Just knowing there is another living being in the room can be a great comfort for many.

Pets bring a routine into our lives that can help keep us active and moving forward. Whether we’re doing as simple a task as topping up the aquarium, or letting the dog out (and then back in, and then back out… ), or taking on more involved tasks such as trimming nails, brushing, or walking the dog, our pets rely upon us to do these things for or with them.

In the past I have been asked to advocate for single seniors to be allowed a pet in a no pets building. I have been happy to do so, knowing that the pet would be a huge benefit — as a companion, an exercise partner, even a reason to get up in the morning. Pets can be lifesavers in these instances,

A new report, commissioned by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute estimates that pets in the U.S. save $22.7 billion each year in health-care costs. You can see this study at www.habri.org under the pressroom tab. The report says this number might actually be a conservative figure, that the benefits may be much larger.

The health benefits include reduced doctor visits, reduced obesity though increased activity with pets, improved gut health through microbial exchange, less child-anxiety treatment, less health-care costs for isolated seniors (as I mentioned above), as well as treating PTSD in veterans. Those are the major factors, and there are many other benefits, too.

It is so reassuring to see a study like this, not just confirming what we know, but actually quantifying the benefits and seeing how substantial they are.

Of course, these figures are based on the U.S. population, but Canadian results should be proportionately similar.

I have also seen studies that show children in homes with pets have a reduced level of ailments, allergies and digestive issues. Exposure to the diverse flora carried by pets can help challenge immune systems. New research is also showing that early exposure to potential allergens can reduce or eliminate allergies developing.

Anyone with a pet knows that arriving home after a stressful day at work and finding a friend waiting for you is probably the best therapy there is. I remember that, in my early years as a salesman in a competitive industry, coming home and sitting beside my large aquarium calmed everything down. One of my cardiologist clients told me that he regularly “prescribed” his clients to get a fish tank, as the gentle noises and calming movements are very therapeutic.

Companion animals are just that, companions, and having them in our lives just makes things better.

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