Pet Therapy

Pet owners less prone to clinical depression

If you've ever owned a pet -- whether of the fur, fin or feather sort -- you know the bond developed between human and animal is unmistakable. The power of that bond transcends companionship.

Scientific data, case studies and hard research more than substantiates what was once only anecdotal evidence -- our connection to animals enhances human quality of life. Whether it's an animal's shenanigans that make us smile, the calming effects of a trusted pet or the therapeutic impact of an animal's presence, the benefits can be emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual.

"I suggest pets to some of our cancer patients to help them cope with the rigors of their terrible disease," said Dr. Ed Creagan, a medical oncologist at Mayo Clinic for the last 30 years. Creagan recalled a patient who was very ill but determined to make it home to see "Max."

"I thought he was talking about his son, Max, or Maxine, his wife. It turned out he was talking about his dog, Max. We can no longer ignore the medical significance of the bond people have with their pets. There is rock solid, indisputable mind-body connection that is vectored by our pets. Our pets create a balance between our minds and our bodies."


Critters are simply to live for

A nationally renowned speaker who advocates the healing power of pets, Creagan said pets give us something else to live for and something to focus on besides ourselves. Self-absorption is not good for your health, he said.

Creagan also believes that getting a pet is one of the easiest and most rewarding avenues for increasing the quality of life particularly in the elderly. "As vets will verify, when an elderly person loses a pet, their length of life diminishes significantly," noted Creagan. Researchers are finding that loneliness, not cancer or heart disease, can be more detrimental to an elderly person's overall health.

Studies show that pets are psychologically important to the elderly as they help stimulate socialization by providing a topic of conversation with others where stories of happy moments with pets are shared. Activity level also increases among elderly pet owners, particularly with dogs, which make excellent, always eager exercise partners.

A more recent study involved people with Alzheimer's disease where a common side effect is loss of weight due to a decrease in appetite. The study placed patients in front of fish tanks during mealtime. By simply watching the fish, the patients became fascinated, experienced an increase in appetite and demonstrated metabolic gains in their weight.

The bottomline, Creagan says, is that humans need someone to love and pets can be some of the easiest creatures to love. In return, pets are one of nature's best sources of love.

Interesting facts from the Delta Society-the Human-Animal Health Connection:

Pet owners have lower blood pressure.


Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than non-owners.

Having a pet may decrease heart attack mortality by 3 percent. This translates into 30,000 lives saved annually.

Companionship of pets (particularly dogs) helps children in families adjust better to the serious illness and death of a parent.

Pets fulfill many of the same support functions as humans for adults and children.

Contact with pets develop nurturing behavior in children who may grow to be more nurturing adults.

Pet owners have better physical health due to exercise with their pets.

Pets decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Seventy percent of families surveyed reported an increase in family happiness and fun after getting a pet.


People with AIDS who have pets have less depression and reduced stress. Pets are a major source of support and increase perception with the ability to cope.

Pets decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation.

Pet owners have better psychological well-being.

Ann Walker is a personal trainer and kinesiologist and has a master's degree in exercise physiology.

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