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The Power of Pets: Having an Animal to Love Provides Health Benefits

The Power of Pets: Having an Animal to Love Provides Health Benefits

by Mary Beth TeSelle, Sponsored Content

If you’ve ever thought that your dog can sense when you’re stressed or struggling, new research says your suspicions are likely true.

submitted photo New research has found that dogs can sense when humans are experiencing stress. This is the latest in many known health benefits associated with pet ownership.

A new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that dogs can detect stress in humans. In fact, researchers found that dogs detected the changes with more than 90% accuracy.

The dogs identified changes in human breath and sweat associated with stress. Samples were collected from study participants before and after a fast-paced, stress-reducing math activity. Other measures of stress including heart rate and blood pressure were also analyzed.

Study participants who felt higher stress levels after the activity were introduced to dogs within the next three hours. The dogs were a variety of breeds and were trained to alert researchers when they detected stress. Researchers said the dogs demonstrated an accuracy of 93%.

“This study demonstrates that dogs can discriminate between the breath and sweat taken from humans before and after a stress-inducing task. This finding tells us that an acute, negative, psychological stress response alters the odor profile of our breath and sweat, and that dogs are able to detect this change in odor,” the study authors wrote.

An estimated 68% of U.S. households have a pet. And while pets can be a lot of work – and not every pet is a perfect fit for every family – most pet owners would agree that their pet brings additional happiness to their lives.

Past studies have shown that pets provide their humans benefits far beyond mere companionship. Pets can decrease stress, improve heart health, and even help children with their emotional and social skills. The Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center says pet ownership has been shown to:

• Buffer stress

• Lower heart rate

• Lower blood pressure

• Give social support

• Help you stay in shape

• Prevent certain sicknesses

The OSU researchers say pets provide their owner with comfort, love and humor, all of which have health benefits. In addition, pets provide physical benefits by demanding their owners stay active by requiring walks, attention, play time, baths, and overall care.

And the benefits aren’t limited to adults. OSU researchers say pets are also beneficial for children, if the right precautions are taken. When a child has a good relationship with their pet, the animal will encourage:

• Cognitive stimulation

• Improved behavior in children

• Heightened understanding of others

• Increased immunity

• Lower anxiety levels

And while allergies to animals kept many families from adopting a four-legged friend in the past, research now shows that introducing a pet during the newborn stage may actually help reduce future allergies.

Research published in the journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that if a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies – 19% risk vs. 33%. They also were less likely to have eczema, a common allergy skin condition that causes red patches and itching. In addition, they had higher levels of some immune system chemicals – a sign of stronger immune system activation.

And as we age, the benefits of pet ownership continue. Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home, according to researchers University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

In addition, the UC Davis researchers found that caregivers feel less burdened when there is a pet, particularly if it is a cat, which generally requires less care than a dog.

For otherwise healthy elderly individuals, simply walking a dog or caring for a pet can provide vital exercise and companionship.

So today, give your four-legged friends a little extra love, in recognition of the many benefits they bring to our health and our lives.

When the Family Pet Poses a Health Risk

Just like animals of any kind, family pets can sometimes be a threat to our health, rather than a benefit. Kids, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for getting sick from animals. To reduce your risk:

• Wash your hands thoroughly after contact with animals.

• Keep your pet clean and healthy and keep vaccinations up to date.

• Supervise children when they’re interating with animals.

• Prevent kids from kissing their pets or putting their hands or other objects in their mouths after touching animals.

• Avoid changing litter boxes during pregnancy. Problems with pregnancy may occur from exposure to toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease spread through the feces of infected cats.


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