Five Ways Pets Improve Health With Diabetes

April 11 is National Pet Day, and in honor of our furry, feathered, and finned friends, we’re exploring ways animal companions can make you healthier. Learn about five ways animals can change your life for the better.

1. Exercise

Exercise is s critical component of diabetes self-management. If you have a dog, you have to walk it. You can also run with it, or play fetch or any other number of games. They get you moving.

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A study at the University of Missouri that found that dog walking actually improved fitness more than walking by yourself or with people. Other studies found that dog owners walked almost twice as much as people without dogs and were also 54 percent more likely to meet the recommended levels of physical activity.

Walking after meals is a great way to reduce blood glucose spikes with eating. So eat, and then walk the dog.

2. Social contact

Social isolation is a major health risk, and dogs are good medicine for it. Dogs are social magnets, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University in Atlanta. “People ask about breed, they watch the dog’s tricks,” Kaslow says. “Sometimes the conversation stays at the ‘dog level,’ sometimes it becomes a real social interchange.”

Other pets might not come out with you, but you can connect with other cat or bird owners online or at pet stores. And pets themselves give social support. They come to you, they give and receive love, and they never talk back to you.

3. Stress reduction

Pets have several ways of lowering your blood pressure, which is important in diabetes.
Petting an animal reduces blood pressure and heart rate. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that pets can decrease your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and your feelings of loneliness.

Having the support of an animal companion speeds recovery in heart attack. Watching animals can be soothing and relaxing, which is one reason people like fish.

4. Preventing hypos

Dogs can be trained to recognize when blood sugar is going down and alert their owner (or owner’s parents). They do this by smelling slight differences in the odor of breath or sweat.

5. Putting you on a schedule

Animals, especially dogs, need regular walking and feeding. Their needs can translate into regular exercise, meal times, and medication times for you.

As an added bonus, having a cat is attractive to many women. In one survey, 90 percent of single women said that men who own a cat are “nicer” than other men.

A survey by the Animal Human Bond Research Institute found that 97 percent of 1,000 family doctors and practitioners said they believed there were health benefits in owning pets. “Seventy-five percent of physicians said they saw one or more of their patients’ overall health improve, and 87 percent said their patients’ mood or outlook improved.”

Things to consider

There are a few things to consider when choosing a pet. First, you don’t want to get an animal you are allergic to. Spend a little time with an animal before taking it in, if you have any history of previous allergy to their species.

Animals who go outside can bring infections and parasites into the house, often carried by fleas that are biting them.

Pets can be a lot of work, maybe too much for you. If you’re getting frail, you might not be able to handle a big dog or go for regular walks. Pets can be expensive, especially veterinary care. Some people won’t pay for expensive vet care, but this can be hard when you have become attached to an animal. Others say, “If you can’t afford the vet, you can’t afford the pet.”

Animals change your life

Animals aren’t just fuzzy toys. They are intelligent, caring beings who bring you friendship, love, and responsibility. They change your life. They make you less self-absorbed.

Biologist Erika Friedmann, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, says pets provide “a focus of attention that’s outside of someone’s self. They’re actually letting you focus on them rather than focusing inward on yourself all the time.”

An American Veterinary Medicine Association survey found that nearly half of respondents considered their pets to be companions; only about 2 percent considered them to be property.”

Psychologist Anne Benvenuti, author of Spirit Unleashed, says that animals are people, too. Their minds are different because their bodies are different, but they think, they feel, they have personalities. If we get to know them, they can open up our appreciation of life in new ways.

Want to learn more about how pets can benefit health? Read “Dogs for Diabetes” and “Getting a Pet for Health.”