I just wrote myself and my family a new prescription for decreasing stress, boosting immune function, and improving my overall wellness. Her name is Raya… and she’s a 10-week old Vizsla puppy.
Unlike many prescription medications, we don’t need any sugar to help this medicine go down. In fact, I’d say she’s the ideal antidote to many of life’s modern ills, especially those that are related to feeling cut off from nature and our innate playful selves.
Owning a pet is not for everybody, of course. You have to live in the right conditions, and have the time, patience, and energy to spare. But the rewards are so worth it, both in terms of the unconditional love… and the health benefits. That’s right, having a pet can be powerfully good medicine. With that in mind, I’d like to share several ways animals can promote health and wellness.
Studies Show Animals Promote Wellness
The science is unequivocal–having a furry companion helps lower blood pressure, anxiety, and other forms of psychological and physical distress. As K.C. Cole, an RN at UCLA’s People-Animal Connection program notes, “Among other things, animals contribute to raising self-esteem, significantly lowering anxiety levels, improving attitude toward others and opening lines of communication.” We could all use a little more of that.
In fact, studies consistently show that owning a pet reduces lowers the risk of having a heart attack, getting depression, or suffering from social isolation.
What’s behind the amazing health benefits of animals? I believe at least some of it has to do with the fact that pets help tune is back into nature:
- They shower us with unconditional love and affection.
- They remind us to live in the moment.
- By bonding with another creature, they help us de-stress.
- They remind us that happiness is connected to playfulness.
I’m reminded about the importance of play and living in the moment every time I see Raya turn a cardboard box into a toy. The levity and joy she creates are contagious (in the best sense of the word).
Of course, she is learning a great deal from me too–we’re working hard on teaching her all of the rules of the house…so that she doesn’t think that she rules the roost. She gets good food, a loving family, and wonderful home with plenty of room to roam outside…but I still feel like I’m getting the better end of the stick, so to speak. After all, there are so many ways having a dog improves human health.
- Have lower rates of heart disease
- Are more physically active
- Lose weight more easily
- Have stronger immune systems
- Get exposed to natural probiotics which reduce the risk of allergies
- Spend less time in doctors offices
- Meet new friends more easily
- Report less stress and anxiety
- Have a different sense of meaning, purpose, connection, and unconditional love.
Despite the many benefits…there are a few realistic downsides to dog ownership too. Adding a dog to the household can add a new layer of responsibility which can be disruptive to schedules…and sleep. Dogs sometimes bite. And in some people dogs cause allergies which can lead to more serious respiratory problems. And perhaps most concerning is the fact that dogs can cause falls. There are over 80,000 falls caused by dogs every year (some of the m catastrophic) so it’s important to take that risk into consideration especially if you have issues with balance or coordination.
The therapeutic value of dogs extends well beyond the classic “seeing-eye dog” that we all know. Dogs can be enormously therapeutic for children and adults with a wide range of physical and mental problems. The medicinal value of a dog is not just wishful thinking–there’s solid science to back it up. So, just a little reminder that one of the most effective medicines on the planet may want to sit on your lap or curl up next to you and lick your face.
Dr. Joshua Levitt