One of my good friends has a son who grew up with a violent allergy to cats. Whenever they would visit friends with cats, the boy would be OK for a few minutes, but before long, he would begin sneezing, itching, and coughing. Sometimes, his eyes would swell up until he couldn’t see.
So often, we you talk about owning a pet, people think of allergies, shedding, paper training, and expensive trips to the vet. While it’s true that some pets need as much care and attention as a baby, research has been showing that owning a pet can have some powerful benefits – physical, mental, and emotional. Just as often as people rescue dogs and cats, I think pets rescue their owners (and I don’t mean pulling them away from danger).
“Think Right Thursday” is my chance to explore the other side of my practice: as a healthcare provider, I understand that treating the body is only a part of achieving wellness: we need to be mentally and emotionally whole in order to maintain physical health. That’s why, today I want to focus on the mental and emotional benefits of caring for pets.
Got The Blues?
The unconditional love of a dog can be just thing to brighten your day. Have you ever come home from a hard day at work and received a warm and affectionate welcome home from a four-legged friend? There’s no feeling in the world quite like it.
Stroking a cat has been shown to relieve stress. According to by Susan Paretts of Demand Media, “Petting and stroking your kitty’s fur generally makes you feel good and happy, thus making you feel more relaxed, according to WebMD. Spending time with and petting your furry friend may not just relieve your stress, but also help prevent anxiety-related health issues, too. Reducing the amount of stress in your life lowers your blood pressure and helps lessen the chances of suffering from illnesses related to anxiety. According to a study published in the January 2009 issue of the ‘Journal of Vascular and Interventional Neurology,’ owners of kitties had a reduced chance of dying from a stroke or heart disease. So not only does spending time with your furry friend, including petting her, have psychological benefits, but also physical ones, too.”
Some families use pets as a way to teach their children responsibility – taking care of feeding and training a pet can carry some powerful life lessons (I also recognize that some people are opposed to using animals in that way, but hear my heart with this). Caring for another living being gives owners a sense of purpose, which is especially beneficial for people who deal with depression or hopelessness. It’s a principle that plays out through many faiths: if you will take care of the needs of others, your needs will be taken care of. It is more blessed to give than receive, because when you give out, you receive so much more in return. Just ask people who are involved in caring for the poor, the homeless, and other types of volunteer opportunities.
To take that concept a step further, several organizations have begun introducing “therapy dogs” and “therapy cats” to a variety of treatment regimens. The mental/emotional component of caring for an animal is not only good for the soul, but for the body. The release of oxytocin, endorphins, and other health-promoting hormones promotes health in all of the tissues of your body.
Giving And Receiving
Nursing homes often keep cats and small dogs for their residents to care for. I don’t care how old you are, how young you are, how happy or grouchy you might be, even the most grizzled soul can benefit from giving love to another creature. We were created to give and receive love. It’s a reflection of our Creator, in Whose image we were designed.
Consider this dear, sweet lady, and her relationship with her dog:
I heard it express this way: The Sea of Galilee has a river flowing in and a river flowing out. That circulation of fresh water creates a rich, healthy ecosystem of fish and plants. On the other hand, the Dead Sea has an intake, but not an outflow. It’s basically just a cesspool of sediment. Nothing grows there; after all, they call it the “Dead” Sea for a reason. I believe that when we give love out, love comes back to us, and in that circulation a healthy environment grows in our souls. Having a pet to take care of can initiate a healthy give-and-take that can make our lives so much fuller and more rewarding.
What About You?
Do you have a pet that helps you feel better? Has a pet ever rescued you? Do you have fond memories of a favorite pet? How did that pet make you feel? Those good feelings are glimpses of how we should always feel. Tell us about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts of how pets have blessed your life. Share your comments on Facebook with us.
If this article has been an encouragement to you, or if you know someone who would like it, I hope you’ll share it. I’m so grateful that you’re here to read these article, and I hope you’ll help me get the message out.