After a long day of getting the kids to school on time, diagnosing and treating sick animals, while helping their parents make the right decisions, and sharing an office with Dr. Henri Bianucci, I (Dr. Perry Jamison) am usually wound up as I leave the hospital.
But as soon as I pull into the driveway, my dog, Flipper, rushes to greet me. Every day, rain or shine, he is there, and I feel myself immediately begin to relax.
As I approach the front door, there are usually at least three if not all five cats peering through windows at me, ready to rub against my pants leg as soon as the door opens. I find the tension of the day melt away as I greet them.
Pets make us feel good, and in doing so, research is showing that they actually improve our health.
Playing with your dog releases the feel-good hormones serotonin and dopamine.
Surprisingly, this is not new information. The first documented benefit of animal interaction and health benefits was in 1792 in York Retreat, England.
Pets were incorporated into the treatment of mental patients as a way to reduce the need for heavy sedatives and restraints.
The first reported use of dogs as therapy in the United States was in 1919, when then-Secretary of the Interior F.K. Lane sent a letter suggesting they be used as companions for psychiatric patients.
In 1944, the Army Air Corps Convalescent Hospital in Pawling, N.Y., used farm animals as a therapy for returning soldiers dealing with their war experiences.
More recently, pet owners have been shown to be less likely to suffer from depression.
A pet in the home of an AIDS patient can lower the chance that person will develop depression. Animals provide structure to your daily routine.
Even when you are not feeling well, you still must get out of bed to feed and care for them.
Pets promote a heart healthy lifestyle, too. In stressful situations, those people with pets at home respond with lower blood pressures. Heart attack patients with pets survive longer. Pet owners have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These heart health benefits are not only from reduced stress but also increased activity.
Pet owners have been found to be more active. Dogs get us up and outside when we take them for a walk or play fetch at the dog park.
Kids benefit greatly from early exposure to pets. Research has shown that babies in homes where they were exposed to dogs, cats or farm animals were at a lower risk of developing asthma and allergies.
Dogs are not the cleanest animals and expose us to all sorts of stuff. This exposure appears to benefit the developing immune system of children. Babies in homes with dogs had evidence of stronger immune system activation. Interacting with pets also helps children develop emotionally. Living with a pet teaches responsibility, compassion and empathy.
Pets can benefit us at all stages of life. Those 65 and older with pets make 30 percent fewer trips to the doctor. Alzheimer’s patients have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in their home. Pets also have been shown to reduce the stress levels of the caregivers.
Pets can benefit you if you are already healthy, too, by promoting interaction. If you are single, it is a great way to meet people.
It decreases isolation by getting you out of the house. If you do not believe us, just walk your dog along The Battery or in Marion Square on a spring day.
Of course, you want to get the right pet for your lifestyle. If you work 12-hour shifts, worrying about whether your puppy can hold it that long or will have chewed every shoe in the house may actually raise your blood pressure.
This is where a cat would be a perfect companion. Older dogs are great, too. Someone else has housed trained them, and they usually have outgrown the chew-on-everything stage.
Plus, you get the added feel-good benefit of giving a home to a dog that needs one.
Go hug your dog or pet your cat.
Not only does it feel good, it might help you live a little longer.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.