PEI

5 ways having a pet can be good for your health

You've heard that an apple a day can keep the doctor away? Well experts suggest your furry companion could be just as good for you — here's how.

Being active, getting social and creating empathy from a young age

Interacting with animals and fostering 'human-animal bonds' can help in the lowering of blood pressure and anxiety and can even improve physical health, says Marti Hopson, a  veterinarian at the Atlantic Veterinary College. (Ermolaev Alexander/Shutterstock)

You've heard that an apple a day can keep the doctor away?

Well, experts suggest your furry companion could be just as good for you — here's how.

Interacting with animals and fostering "human-animal bonds" can help lower blood pressure and anxiety and can even improve physical health, said Marti Hopson, a veterinarian at the Atlantic Veterinary College.

"They bring you joy and happiness and that's something you just can't measure," said Jennifer Harkness, development manager at the P.E.I. Humane Society.

Here are some of the top ways that having a furry or feathered friend can help keep people happy, healthy and active throughout their lives.

1. Mental health and stress

'Having pets around can be a de-stresser. Just in terms of mental health in a general sense — a lot of people derive a lot of happiness from their animals,' says P.E.I. veterinarian Marti Hopson. (Submitted by Marti Hopson)

"Having pets around can be a de-stresser. Just in terms of mental health in a general sense — a lot of people derive a lot of happiness from their animals," said Hopson.

In recent years, Harkness and Hopson agree there has been quite an increase in the way animals are used by humans to provide emotional support.

"It has been shown that having that type of human-animal bond can be beneficial for people. There are actual physiological studies that talk about the lowering of anxiety," Hopson said.

2. Companionship in senior years

'They bring you joy and happiness and that's something you just can't measure,' says Jennifer Harkness, development manager at the P.E.I. Humane Society. (Laura Meader/CBC )

Seniors can have trouble in coping with loneliness as spouses and family members pass on, Hopson said. But having a pet or access to animals can help in how well they cope, Hopson said.

"That's why we see a lot of the need for service animals increasing," Harkness said.

"There's been a lot of work done across Canada and other parts of the world recognizing that it is important to allow seniors to have access to animals whether that's in ... a seniors' home where they have actual resident cats that roam the halls or ... whether there's therapy dogs that visit homes or seniors' centres," she said. 

3. Being active

'It really gives you that boost to say, 'Yes, let's go for that walk and let's get outside. Yout both benefit from the exercise," says Harkness.  (amfroey/Shutterstock)

For some people being active can be difficult — having a pet like a cat or dog can help get you up and moving.

"Especially people who need more structure in their life or need a reason to get up in the morning and get outside, when their dog is there saying, 'Hey can we go for a walk?' It really gives you that boost to say, 'Yes, let's go for that walk and let's get outside. You both benefit from the exercise," Harkness said. 

"Even seniors who don't have much mobility, it does encourage movement and stretching through just even in basic cat care. You're creating connections, you're stretching and moving, even if you are in a wheelchair you could have a cat or dog and go out in the world," Harkness said.

4. Creating empathetic, responsible kids

'Having pets for young children really creates empathy,' says Harkness (Liudmila Fadzeyeva/Shutterstock)

"There are certainly studies about children and interaction with animals and I think ... fostering a sense of well-being and kindness toward all creatures in the world is helpful," Hopson said.

"Having pets for young children really creates empathy," added Harkness.

"Often those kids will grow up really loving animals and be able to carry that message on. And it does teach them a lot of lessons in life as they get older."

"It's also going to foster a sense of responsibility if young people are asked to help out to walk a dog or scoop some food into a dish," she said. 

5. Being social

'Not only is it good for the dogs but it's good for the people' says Harkness. (Page Light Studios/Shutterstock)

Getting out to the dog park can help your pup stretch their legs but it can also be helpful in keeping you social with other people.

"It gives people a reason to talk to other people," Harkness said. 

"We have a couple of dog parks now in Charlottetown and in other communities across P.E.I. and people are really taking advantage of those dog parks. Not only is it good for the dogs but it's good for the people," she said.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Juric

Reporter

Sam Juric is a CBC reporter and producer, through which she's had the privilege of telling stories from P.E.I., Sudbury and Nunavut.

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