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Did you know that on Captain Scott’s 1912 expedition to the South Pole, the ship cat had its own blanket, hammock and pillow? Look at the writings and early drawings from the days of the Pharaohs, and you will quickly discover that cats where definitely more than “just another animal”; or, consider that Renaissance manuscripts portray pictures of royalty holding their pets. History shows us that pet ownership is nothing new.

However, while most of us never give a thought to the benefits of having a trained helper dog and while much study and application has shown that horseback riding is therapeutic for people who have been traumatized, not everyone doesn’t still think about the health benefits of having a small animal such a cat or dog. Sure, one might think of the added work, the cost and yes, the pleasure of a pet, but how often do you hear someone say, “Get a pet, it will help you with depression” or “Good thing you have a pet, you will have more opportunities to interact with other people”? However, both of these statements would be true.

When it comes to the therapeutic benefits of pet ownership, especially for the mature adult, there are actually quite a few—some of them might be expected while others may surprise you. Here are some of the interesting correlations discovered by the American Heart Association between pet ownership and living a better life.

  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those who live in an animal free home.
  • Pet owners over 65 make 30% fewer visits to the doctors than the non-pet owners.
  • Heart attack patients with pet survive longer those who don’t have pets.
  • Pet ownership does not have to be a dog or cat. The studies found that even watching fish in an aquarium could help to lower tension and pulse.
  • Playing with a pet actually elevates serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relaxes the body while lowering unhealthy cholesterol levels and triglyceride.
  • Research at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine found that Alzheimer’s patients had less stress and fewer anxiety related outburst when there was a pet in the home. They also found that cats or caged animals were more suitable than dogs because non-canines require less upkeep.
  • Because pets provide a source of nonverbal communication and encourage playful interaction –petting, stroking, etc. those with Alzheimer’s are less aggressive.
  • Some studies have also found that even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interaction with pets.

So, having a pet is about more than merely having another body in the home. But how exactly, does having a pet make a difference in one’s behavior? Here are some reasons that many doctors are advocating pets for senior adults.

  1. Having a pet encourages exercise. Whether it is taking out a dog for a walk around the block or playing a game of tug o’ war with your cat, having a pet is a fun way to get in exercise.
  2. Pets prevent isolation. Caring for animal helps one to feel needed and wanted, thus keeping you from focusing solely on your own problems. Many pet owners, especially if they live alone, will talk to their pets and can work through their problems by having a “silent partner” to bounce problems off of. Also, having a pet means one must feed them, and if you have a dog, then take them outside for a walk.
  3. Encourage human interaction. From meeting people as you walk your pet around the block to meeting fellow pet owners as you visit a pet store, Fluffy or Fido in tow, pet owners tend to gravitate toward each other and forge strong friendships.
  4. Provide emotional support. When one is stressed or anxious, it typically helps to stroke something soft. Having a cat or dog to interact with, pet, etc. provides a healthy easy way to manage stress. Also, pets encourage playfulness, laughter and even courage and optimism.

Can having a pet provide therapeutic benefits? Absolutely! So whether it is fish, a dog, a cat or some other animal that brings you pleasure, having a pet is not just something to consider, but something that actually benefits you. So, when are you going to get a pet?

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