Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How Pets Can Improve Your Health

"Having a dog or a cat at home could make kids allergic; People with allergies should avoid pets", or so goes the myth.  The truth is just the opposite. Recent studies have discovered that having a furred animal—a dog or a cat, or even a polar bear—at home makes kids less prone to having allergies and asthma. Kids who grow up on the farms and are exposed to animals have lower risks of allergic reactions including eczema and asthma.

If it's healthy to keep a dog or cat at home, why not bring it to the office with you? In fact, if you knew the health benefits that your pet has for you, you'll hardly ever leave home without it. Here's what pets can do for your well-being:

Relieve Stress and Lower Blood Pressure

This might not come as a surprise to married couples. A State University of New York at Buffalo study revealed that people are less stressed when they are with their pets than when they are with their spouses—or even close friends. Another research, conducted on hypertensive stockbrokers who had adopted a dog or a cat, found that the subjects had lower blood pressure readings than before.

When you are under stress, chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine are released into the blood stream. They lower your immunity and cause plaque to build up in the arteries. Research has shown that playing with your dog raises the level of serotonin and dopamine, which have calming effects on the nervous system.

Sniff Cancer and Blood Sugar Level

A dog's olfactory power dominates its brain in much the same way as our sight dominates ours. Dogs depend heavily on their sense of smell to interpret information. This may be the reason why dogs can detect blood sugar levels and cancer in their owners.

"Panda", a black Labrador, is on record for correctly detecting cancers from samples of people's breath and stool. In 1989, a woman reported that her dog constantly sniffed at a mole in her leg. She got curious and got her mole checked. It was found to be a form of malignant melanoma and was surgically removed. Dogs can detect cancers in skin, bladder, lung, breast, and ovaries. It is unclear what the dogs are sniffing for, probably a malignant substance common in all cancers.

A 1992 research found that dogs would exhibit a peculiar change in behaviour when their owners had dropped blood-sugar levels. It's probably the chemical changes that happen in the hypoglycaemic owner's body that their dog can smell and react to. The finding is very useful for people with instable glucose levels, who wouldn't need to prick every time for testing their blood-sugar. There are organizations like Dogs4Diabetics that train dogs for such patients.

Prevent Strokes and Heart Disease

Pets provide a welcome distraction during stressful situations. Patting your dog or caressing your cat calms you down. It's been shown that cat owners have significantly lower chance of having a stroke or a heart attack. Additionally, pets also help rehabilitate victims of major trauma, such as heart attack, or PSTD among war veterans. Pet owners generally have better moods, which is good for the heart. Dog owners have lower cholesterol levels, although it's unclear whether that's because of the dogs or the healthier lifestyle of people who own dogs. Either way, owning a pet is a sign of good health.

Pets in Offices

Various studies have shown that the companies that allow dogs at the office have better bottom lines. Presence of dogs at workplace boosts morale and keeps people happier. Allowing dogs at office instils more trust and better teamwork, a recent Central Michigan University reveals. In the US, where some 20% offices already allow dogs at work, a Take Your Dog To Work Day is held every year in June. The trend is yet to catch up in the UK, where far fewer offices have embraced it so far.

With amazing benefits for personal and organizational health, it would be hard for any thinking organization not to invite dogs, cats or even other pets to the office. Will it make your office look like a zoo? Probably yes, but a zoo can be a fun place to work in.

Dr Garry J McCLean was commissioned to study the beneficial effects of owning pets by The Workplace Depot

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