The Therapeutic Benefits of Pets



Pet ownership of all types can have major therapeutic benefits in our lives and increase the quality and possibly the longevity of our lives. It is gratifying and rewarding to have a four legged companion greet you at all times of the day with enthusiasm and love.
It is estimated that nearly 70% of U.S. households have some type of pet. Our enthusiasm is obvious in the industries that have grown to support them. We have found the need for pet daycare, groomers, dog walkers, pet sitters, and therapy for pets.
Pets can provide a source of comfort and stability. Dogs especially have proven to be effective at this. Dogs may be brought into hospitals and long term care facilities to reduce patients stress and anxiety. Researchers at the NIH Clinical Center in Maryland have used dogs with terminally ill cancer patients to teach mindfulness to help patients manage pain and anxiety. Dogs are able to focus their attention on one person at all times.
Dogs have been brought into classrooms to aid in children with ADHD to focus their attention more intently. Children who were exposed to and able to read to dogs in the classroom showed better social skills and exhibited better sharing and cooperation skills. Another study done in children with autism spectrum disorder found that they were calmer when playing with pets in the classroom. The children had improved social interactions and were more attentive to their classmates. The pets may serve as a bridge to help these children with social interactions.
Pets can teach children responsibility about the care taking routine that may also transition to childcare and care for aging adults.
On a more common measure pets can reduce blood pressure by increasing relaxation and endorphin release to give a greater feeling of well being.
Dogs can encourage their owners to be more active and exercise, promoting greater cardiovascular fitness, joint mobility, muscle strength, and weight control. Increased exercise will be beneficial to recovery from injury or orthopedic surgical procedures. Increased exercise may also help to maintain motor skills especially in the older population.
Pets have been proven to decrease depression and increase communication. They can provide the opportunity for increased human social interaction and help avoid isolation.
Dogs can provide obvious service skills such as search and rescue, protection, eye sight for the blind and possibly early cancer detection.
Pets do not have to be pedigree to provide most of these benefits. Many willing and able pets are located in local animal shelters and available through various animal rescue organizations.

NIH News in Health.