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I’m shy by nature, but walking my fur-baby around the block, I’m struck by the number of neighbors I easily interact with. When the neighbors see my fluffy shih tzu who often looks more like an Ewok than a dog, they can’t help but smile, say “hello”, and stop to pet him. Incidentally, we humans often share an exchange of small talk, too. This type of experience is not exclusive to me or my neighborhood. Data collected in cities in both the United States and Australia revealed that having a companion animal can be a catalyst for human social relationships in neighborhood settings. Pet owners are significantly more likely to get to know their neighbors than non pet owners.
Companionship is necessary for a healthy brain. Interacting with others can help maintain mental and cognitive health. “Cognitive” describes the functions of our brain that center around thoughts, learning, communication, social interaction, memory, reasoning, etc. One study found that loneliness and infrequent interactions with family and friends can actually shorten a person’s life. It can also contribute to increased illness and depression. Cultivating a circle of friends and family may improve our brain health and overall well-being. There are also benefits to having a daily companion; someone or something that shares your life deeply and intimately. A pet can fill that gap, when people aren’t able to. A pet can offer a soothing snuggle when we feel overwhelmed, or a wagging tail when we feel sad. Dogs, for example, have the ability to recognize emotions on human faces. A pet needs us in a way that can offer a daily sense of purpose. According to the CDC, the bond between people and their pets can lower stress and bring happiness to their owners.
Some health benefits of pet ownership include:
- Decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and feelings of loneliness
- Increased opportunities for outdoor activities, exercise, and socialization
Caring for a pet requires commitment, diligence, and some financial investment. Don’t forget to consider all of your potential pets’ needs and your own capabilities or limitations. For instance, a pet goldfish will need to be fed and have the water changed periodically, but needs very little space and is acceptable in most rental spaces. A dog or cat, on the other hand, may require permission from a landlord, and will have needs like daily walks, grooming, daily food and water, and routine healthcare. If owning your own pet is not an option, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter, or help look after and visit with a neighbor’s pet. Some long-term care facilities now have service animals on the grounds to offer support and comfort to residents.
Even though it involves work, owning a pet can enrich your life and provide you with a loving companion. If you’ve determined that a pet would be a good addition to your life, the SPCA is a great place to adopt dogs, cats, and small exotic animals. The adoption fees are low in comparison to buying a pet, and the organization offers many useful resources for pet owners, such as training and spay/neuter assistance. Pets for the Elderly is another organization that helps to partner aging adults (over age 60) with loving pet companions.
DISCLAIMER: This article contains information that is intended to help the readers be better informed regarding exercise and health care. It is presented as general advice on health care. Always consult your doctor for your individual needs. Before beginning any new exercise program it is recommended that you seek medical advice from your personal physician. This article is not intended to be a substitute for the medical advice of a licensed physician. The reader should consult with their doctor in any matters relating to his/her health.