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2018-19 Eat Smart. Play Hard Magazine

2018-19 Magazine

2018-19 Eat Smart. Play Hard. Magazine

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Pets Might Improve Your Health

Evidence suggests that human-to-animal responsibilities and companionship result in more healthful living and reduced risk of certain diseases.

The domestication of animals raised for draft purposes, food, protection and companionship resulted in societies living in close contact with animals.

However, in today’s culture, with the vast majority of our population living in large city and metropolitan areas, the close relationship with livestock and draft animals has decreased dramatically. In contrast, the companion animal population has increased, and disposable income spent on pet food and pet well-being has increased dramatically.

In spite of these demographic shifts, evidence suggests that human-to-animal responsibilities and companionship result in more healthful living and reduced risk of certain diseases. For example:

  • Studies have shown less depression among elderly people who had a strong attachment to a pet. Equine-assisted therapies have shown improved outcomes regarding depression. In some circumstances, our fast-paced lifestyles produce anxiety and stress. Using animal-assisted therapy demonstrated an improvement in exercise, rest, food intake, motivation and self-esteem while lowering anxiety.
  • Other studies have shown improved cardiovascular risk parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate and physical activity with companion animal ownership. In addition, the presence of companion animals tends to lower stress following cardiovascular disease.
  • Research related to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and the human-animal bond demonstrate that therapy associated with companion animals improves social interactions and decreases agitated behaviors.
  • People of all ages, healthy and ill, may benefit from living with a pet. Studies have demonstrated that college-age women living with pets were less lonely than if they lived alone, and elderly women living with only a pet had better mental health than those who lived alone.

In my experience, men and women who have spent their lives caring for livestock stay healthier longer when responsibilities still include feeding and caring for livestock and companion animals. Perhaps this indicates that many of us have a determined purpose to care for living things beyond ourselves and in doing so, bring health and joy into our lives and the lives of others.

 

Gerald Stokka, D.V.M., Department of Animal Sciences, NDSU

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