Furry Medicine


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Say you were a doctor and you could only prescribe one thing, the same thing, for all your patients. What would be the most effective thing you could do for people to protect their hearts, blood vessels, and brains? Statin[1] drugs? Nope. An exercise[2] program? Well, that would help. But studies show that the best medicine for health is often a dog or cat.

There have been many studies. One three-year study[3] of 5,741 people at the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia, showed that pet owners had lower blood pressure, triglyceride[4], and cholesterol[5] levels than did nonowners. This result held up after controlling for such personal differences as cigarette smoking, diet, weight, and socioeconomic profile.

A study at City Hospital of New York[6] looked at ICU patients who had heart attacks or strokes[7]. They found that only 6% of patients who owned pets died within one year compared with 28% of those who did not own pets. Pets gave a bigger survival advantage than did spouses or friends.

Just petting a dog lowers blood pressure, and the effect lasts for hours or days afterward. Other studies have found that pets reduce stress and improve depression[8]. Just watching fish swim in a tank seems to calm behavior and lower stress[9] in people with Alzheimer disease.

How Do Pets Help?
Pets are good for us in many ways, but a lot of them are unknown. Here’s what we do know:

What other ways have pets helped you?

Are Pets for Everyone?
You have to think about whether a pet is right for you. If you’re too disabled or too busy, you may not be able to handle a dog. Cats are easier, and smaller mammals (like rabbits or guinea pigs) seem to give some of the same benefits as do dogs and cats. Birds can be easiest of all to take care of. Their songs can raise your mood, and they’re extremely cheap to feed.

Of course, as you come to care about a pet, you leave yourself open to worry when they get sick and grief if they die. So that is a potential downside, as it is with any relationship.

The benefits seem well worth it, though. What other therapy helps your heart and your mind and licks your face, too?

What have been your experiences with pets? Do the pluses outweigh the minuses? Let us know. And don’t forget to vote next Tuesday!

Endnotes:
  1. Statin: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Statins
  2. exercise: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Exercise
  3. One three-year study: http://www.petsfortheelderly.org/research.html
  4. triglyceride: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Triglycerides
  5. cholesterol: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Cholesterol
  6. A study at City Hospital of New York: http://www.holistic-online.com/stress/stress_pet-therapy.htm
  7. strokes: http://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/articles/Diabetes_Definitions/Stroke
  8. pets reduce stress and improve depression: http://www.bestfriendspetcare.com/bf_feature_14.cfm
  9. calm behavior and lower stress: http://freshaquarium.about.com/od/termsandtables/a/aquariumhealth.htm

Source URL: https://www.diabetesselfmanagement.com/blog/furry-medicine/


David Spero: David Spero has been a nurse for 40 years and has lived with multiple sclerosis for 30 years. He is the author of four books: The Art of Getting Well: Maximizing Health When You Have a Chronic Illness (Hunter House 2002), Diabetes: Sugar-coated Crisis — Who Gets It, Who Profits, and How to Stop It (New Society 2006, Diabetes Heroes (Jim Healthy 2014), and The Inn by the Healing Path: Stories on the road to wellness (Smashwords 2015.) He writes for Diabetes Self-Management and Pain-Free Living (formerly Arthritis Self-Management) magazines. His website is www.davidsperorn.com. His blog is TheInnbytheHealingPath.com.

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