• 66°

Pets have the power to heal our hearts and lives

By ALETHEA PRICE

Boyle County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

When you adopt or rescue a pet, it might really be the pet who rescues you.  The healing power of pets includes the joy, smiles and sense of purpose they can bring to a person’s daily routine.  Pets provide touch, laughter and unconditional love, which contributes to physical, psychological and social benefits in people of all ages and abilities.

A patient at the Mayo Clinic who was not expected to live through the night, did. He later told his doctor, Edward Creagan, that Max was his reason to get home.  Expecting Max to be a child or a friend, Creagan was surprised to learn that Max was a 95 pound German shepherd.  This story made Creagan and others appreciate the tremendous healing power of pets.  As a result, Creagan began writing the names of patients’ pets in their medical history because it helped hospital personnel when talking to patients. 

Doctors and staff report that patients and families smile when talking about Spot, Rudy, Buddy or Bella.  Even more powerful is the way a patient’s attitude can change making the atmosphere one of healing, peace and serenity. 

Research shows that when you look into the eyes of an animal, or stroke or hold a pet that a surge of hormones are released that create calm and harmonious feelings.  These hormones also lower blood pressure, slow pulse, lessen depression, and reduce stress and anxiety. 

Studies show that if you have a heart attack, you have a greater chance of living one year after the attack if you have a dog.  Another study proved that elderly people are more likely to eat and gain weight if they eat in front of an aquarium versus by themselves. 

Pets are powerful across our life spans.  They can cheer up stressed and tired parents, serve as companions to children or older adults, and work as service animals for those with disabilities.  Animals provide a level of social support for those who are mentally ill, living in institutional care or aging in place.  Like with Dr. Creagan’s patient, pets also provide people with a sense of purpose as animals need to be fed, walked, groomed and loved.  If a pet is not possible because of cost, allergies or safety concerns, plants or fish can also produce positive effects. 

Dogs, cats and rabbits are most commonly used for therapeutic purposes with older adults.  But dolphins and horses have also been used with children with mental health issues, epilepsy, physical disabilities and autism.  In addition to improving communication skills, some pet therapies also help children and adults build core strength, body awareness and muscle memory. 

Lastly, pets can benefit a caregiver.  Caregiving can be a lonely job, but having a companion who loves you unconditionally and greets you at the door with a wagging tail, can be just what the doctor ordered.  Because of the prolonged stress that caregiving can cause, caregivers are twice as likely as the general public to develop chronic illness.  Therefore, interacting with an animal can help you smile more, increase your exercise, lower your blood pressure and contribute to your overall well-being.

June 3rd through the 29th at the Danville-Boyle County Humane Society you can adopt a shelter cat or kitten for only $25! What a great way to rescue a local furry friend who needs a little love.

For questions or comments about this column email me at a.price@uky.edu.