Feel­ing calm?

Cute kit­tens make all your Face­book pho­tos that much more like­able but pets ben­e­fit your well­be­ing in many more sub­stan­tial ways. By Jenny Ring­land

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

You can thank the gold­fish for that. Here’s why they, and other pets, are the key to com­plete well­be­ing

If you’re cur­rently weigh­ing up the pros and cons of in­tro­duc­ing a pet into your fam­ily, there’s an ar­gu­ment that sits con­vinc­ingly on the af­fir­ma­tive side. We’ve known about the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits of pet own­er­ship for a while, with many physi­cians rec­om­mend­ing own­ing a dog as the best way to en­sure daily ex­er­cise. How­ever, it’s not just ca­nines that are good for our waist­line – there are a range of phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal and so­cial ad­van­tages to look­ing af­ter a furry friend of any kind.

“It’s sci­en­tif­i­cally proven that own­ing a pet can re­duce stress, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion,’’ Pet In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia CEO Mark Fraser says.

“They can lower your blood pres­sure and pos­si­bly de­crease the risk of heart dis­ease and stroke due to in­creased phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity that many pet own­ers, and es­pe­cially dog own­ers, are in­volved with.’’

A FURRY LIT­TLE FRIEND­SHIP BUILDER

The com­pan­ion­ship of a pet has far-reach­ing ben­e­fits to their own­ers, and also the wider com­mu­nity, Fraser says.

“Pets are great com­pany. That sim­ple art of tak­ing the dog for a walk, the fresh air, the neigh­bourly chats... pets are gen­er­ally great ice­break­ers,’’ he says of the ease pet-own­ers have in strik­ing up con­ver­sa­tions.

“Pet own­ers tend to be more em­pa­thetic and car­ing be­cause the pets help build their con­fi­dence. They have higher self-es­teem in sit­u­a­tions they oth­er­wise might not feel com­fort­able with.’’

The re­search re­sults of Univer­sity of West­ern Aus­tralia as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor Lisa Wood sup­ports this point. She headed a study of 2700 adults in Aus­tralia and the US on the role pets play in im­prov­ing so­cial re­la­tion­ships.

“We found that more pet own­ers than non-pet own­ers got to know new peo­ple since mov­ing to their cur­rent neigh­bour­hood,” Wood says. “And of the pet own­ers who had got to know peo­ple in their neigh­bour­hood be­cause of their pet, more than half con­sid­ered one or more of the peo­ple they met to be friends.”

HEART AND MIND HELPERS

The phys­i­cal ben­e­fits of a pet com­pan­ion are par­tic­u­larly help­ful for the el­derly, who are at risk of so­cial iso­la­tion and stress, and peo­ple with heart con­di­tions or chronic ill­ness. Ac­cord­ing to a 2012 study re­view pub­lished in Aus­tralian Fam­ily Physi­cian, these vul­ner­a­ble groups are the most likely to ex­pe­ri­ence car­dio­vas­cu­lar and men­tal health ben­e­fits.

Aussie vet­eri­nary spe­cial­ists re­port that pet own­ers are less

likely to ex­pe­ri­ence lone­li­ness and de­pres­sion be­cause of the fel­low­ship and the sense of pur­pose the an­i­mals cre­ate.

What’s more, re­search also shows that hav­ing pets can im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tion for el­derly pa­tients with Alzheimer’s and de­men­tia. A study in the jour­nal Clin­i­cal Geron­tol­o­gist showed that just 10 min­utes spent with cats was enough to boost mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tion for women liv­ing with de­men­tia.

CARE FOR KIDS

Pet own­er­ship also im­pacts pos­i­tively on chil­dren, teach­ing them great lessons about re­spon­si­bil­ity and em­pa­thy, which helps them de­velop into con­fi­dent young adults.

Spokesper­son for the RSPCA Amanda Diaz says, “Those who have pets, in­clud­ing chil­dren or ado­les­cents, have been shown to have higher self-es­teem. Teenagers who own pets have a more pos­i­tive out­look on life and re­port less [ in­ci­dences of] lone­li­ness, rest­less­ness, de­spair and bore­dom.’’

Her sen­ti­ments are echoed by re­sults of a study of 500 peo­ple by Tufts Univer­sity in the US. The young adults who had grown up with pets were found to be more con­fi­dent, com­pe­tent and car­ing than those who were pet-less.

There’s also ev­i­dence furry friends can im­prove the health of chil­dren. Ac­cord­ing to re­search pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Pae­di­atrics, ba­bies who live with dogs in their first year of life may be less prone to de­vel­op­ing res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses. In the study of 400 chil­dren, 44 per cent of ba­bies with pets were less prone to ear in­fec­tions and 29 per cent were less likely to need an­tibi­otics. They also had more healthy weeks in their first year than bubs who had no con­tact with pets. Cats were also found to im­prove health, but not as ef­fec­tively as dogs.

If you can’t ac­com­mo­date a pet per­ma­nently at home, pet shar­ing services are avail­able – see dogshare.com.au.

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