Pets and the benefits of having them
Not only do these four-legged friends give you love, but they are also natural healers. We bring to you the numerous benefits of pets
Delhi University student Tenzin Moto’s grandmother prefers to live in their Shimla home all alone, instead of moving in with her parents. That is when their little Yorkshire terrier, Brownie stepped in. Though he could not offer real protection, it was good enough to provide her 85-year-old grandmother company and some exercise.
“Brownie has become my grandmother’s third son. So much so that his needs take precedence over her own son (my father). Plus, Brownie keeps her occupied all day and she does not get lonely,” says Moto.
Research backs her claim. One of the biggest benefits of pets is that they are natural mood enhancers. Moreover, therapists have been known to prescribe a pet as a way of dealing with and recovering from depression. Dr Aradhana Pandey, who runs Doggy World in Delhi, agrees. She cites an example of an acquaintance whose daughter had been depressed over her Class XII results. It was the entry of a pup that brought her back from the brink of depression.
“There’s no better therapy than loving licks and wagging tails. Irrespective of what mood you are in, pets will always bring a smile to your face,” says Sanjeev Kumar of Delhi’s Pet Bytes and Scoopy Scrub. Kumar owns 12 dogs, a fish tank with numerous fish and two guinea pigs. In his own word, his house is a ‘mini-zoo’.
“In the US, cats and dogs are sent regularly to special schools and centres for the old and disabled to help in therapy. Such a system does not exist in India, but we are hoping that change will happen soon,” says Pandey. She even says that fish are also proven to soothe your senses and numb anxiety.
“It only takes a few minutes with a dog or a cat or watching fish swim to feel less anxious and stressed. The levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, goes down in the body and the production of serotonin, associated with well-being, sees an increase,” she says.
However, it’s not just companionship that these pets provide. They are good for your physical well-being as well. Here are certain benefits of pets:
- Improve cardiovascular health in adults. A study suggests that these four-legged friends can help to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check. This, however, could also be attributed to the lifestyle that the pet owners choose to follow. “Having a pet means to exercise and keep moving around. The more you are physically active, the better is your health quotient,” says Pandey, adding, “Having someone to care around keeps you happy, taking care of your overall health in turn.”
- Ward off allergies in kids. It has been observed that children who are exposed to pets from an early age are able to develop a stronger immune system. “Cuddling with the pet can ward off certain allergies, specifically related to the lungs,” says Dr Sharad T. Bhoir, who owns Shree Pet Shop and Pet Clinic in Mumbai. A recent research by an American journal, Pediatrics, has also pointed out that children who had a dog in the first year of their lives had 33 per cent fewer respiratory tract infections. “Though it has not been clinically proven, it has been observed that chances of asthma goes down in case of such children,” Pandey says.
- Help fight depression. Pets are a great way to beat the blues. “Pets are known to offer unconditional love. Besides, they may also give their owners a sense of purpose,” says Kumar. Pets also combat feelings of loneliness by providing companionship, which can boost your overall mood and even bring you feelings of joy and happiness.
- Keeps you and your child physically active. Dr Bhoir talks about how pets are essential to give a child a semblance of physical activity in an age of television, computer and junk food. “These days, children spend a lot of time in front of the television. A pet negates a sedentary lifestyle. So, even if a child likes to stay at home, he will play with the dog or the cat and get into some physical activity. If there’s a dog in the family, encourage your child to take him out for a walk or a run,” Bhoir says. Taking your dog for a daily 30-minute walk will keep you moving and ensure that you meet the minimum recommendations for healthy physical activity.
- Improve your socialisation skills. One of the benefits that most of us ignore is that pets can be an instant icebreaker, improving your socialisation skills, especially in terms of meeting and interacting with other pet owners.
- Make your child feel secured. Caring for a dog can help children grow up more secure and active or provide valuable companionship for older adults. “Especially in today’s households, where we are living in the concept of the single child, having a pet will definitely prove to be a company. The child will learn to care and share with the pet,” adds Kumar.
- Overcoming ADHD. Children with ADHD can learn to plan and be responsible if a pet is around. “Pets need to play, and playing with them is a great way of releasing excess energy, something that is noticed among cildren suffering from ADHD,” says Bhoir. Also, some studies have shown that pets help children with ADHD learn about self-esteem.
- Help in autism. Pets can help boost social skills in autistic children. “They can act as a communication bridge, becoming topics about which autistic children can talk about with others,” says Pandey. However, research in this field is new and limited.
- Build strong bones. Walking your dog helps in building strong bones. It also lets you spend time in the sun, which provides vitamin D.
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