Creature Comforts: The Health Benefits of Pets

It was “total pandemonium” when Dr. Bill Thomas released one hundred parakeets into the beauty salon of the nursing home because his order of birdcages was delayed. But he was determined to transform this bleak setting into a lively, welcoming home. Bemused, the elderly residents watched the spectacle of the staff “chasing the parakeets through a cloud of feathers” while trying to transfer them into cages for delivery to the residents’ rooms. When the chaos settled down, birdsong filled the air, residents had a sense of purpose and health outcomes improved dramatically.

Have you ever felt mesmerized watching colorful, tropical fish glide along in the aquarium of your dentist’s waiting room? Have you come home from a long day to your dog’s warm welcome or had your cat jump in your lap for a cuddle? Then you too know the health benefits of pets. While some animals are specially trained as official therapy pets, most are just freelancing – all pets are therapeutic.

Even if you don’t want a pet, online puppy videos draw a smile and it’s calming to watch an Animal Planet documentary featuring the undulating movements of a stealthy leopard. If you love critters but can’t have one in your home, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter or finding a job as a dog walker. Go to your local park, soak up the sunshine and listen for the birds.

Caring for animals offers a sense of purpose. Students who read to animals in their classroom have fewer behavior problems and are kinder to their classmates. Seniors who have pets are generally healthier, happier and cognitively sharper.

Animals offer soothing sensory experiences – birdsong, purring, velvety ears. My children say our dog’s paws smell like Fritos and they nap with their noses nestled in her fur. These experiences with pets quiet your nervous system, decrease your stress hormone levels and improve your mental of health.

Pets are a great source of vitamin C—connection. Animals offer uncomplicated love and devotion that soothes the spirit. The comfort of an affectionate cat or your dog’s adoring gaze can be just what the doctor ordered. Savor your creature comforts.

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