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Pets' Love, Devotion Add To Owners' Health
By Bonnie Coblentz
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- While eating apples each day is supposed to cut down on doctor visits, a more fun way to do the same thing is to own a pet.
Research has shown that people benefit in many ways from having a pet. Companion animals have more consistent behavior and give unconditional affection that humans rarely offer.
A survey conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association found that more than half the pet owners surveyed, if stranded on a deserted island, would choose the companionship of their pet over another human. Such is the role pets play in human companionship and affection.
But more than offering friendship, keeping a pet has positive physical effects. Dr. Lisa Sharp, a Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association veterinarian at South Panola Veterinary Hospital, sees pet owners benefit from having a pet.
"Having a pet helps decrease blood pressure because it relaxes and soothes people," Sharp said. "It lowers blood pressure as owners pet, hold and play with them."
Elderly people who have lost a spouse often turn to a pet for companionship. Animals have a way of filling the void left by the death of a loved one.
"It gives them something to care for and something that relies on them," Sharp said. "The responsibility of having the pet gives them something to do and makes them feel worthwhile."
In her practice in Batesville, Sharp has watched changes in the demeanor of elderly people who have lost a spouse. Caring for a pet improves their outlook on life.
"They view the pet as more than just a dog or cat. It's their friend or companion," Sharp said.
Companion animals are also especially beneficial to sick children and those with a terminal illness.
"It takes their mind off their own problems as they become more concerned with this animal and how to properly care for it," she said.
Sharp told of a young girl with terminal brain cancer who wanted a boxer puppy. Her parents got her one, and the girl who previously did not want to get out of bed began to interact with the puppy as much as her strength and health allowed.
Pets provide health benefits in several other ways. Playing with and walking pets gives exercise that many people do not get otherwise. Pets are fun to watch and people often laugh at their antics.
"Laughing helps, since mental attitude is a big percentage of good health," Sharp said. "You laugh with the animal and that's good for you."
In 1992, the Baker Medical Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia did a comparative health study of 5,741 people. It found that pet owners had lower blood pressure, and plasma triglyceride and cholesterol levels than did non-owners. The statistics held true regardless of the person's body mass or smoking habits.
This study, like many others, concluded that pet ownership truly does seem to have a positive impact on a person's health.
But pet ownership is not for everyone, and each person's situation and ability to care for an animal should be considered. The type of pet also depends on the person.
"You have to be sure to tailor the pet to the individual's lifestyle or needs," Sharp said.
Released: April 14, 1997
Contact: Dr. Lisa Sharp, (601) 563-4870