One silver lining to come out of the coronavirus pandemic has been a surge in pet fostering and adoption. People across the country have stepped up to support local shelters, and they may be in for more than they bargained for — in the best way. Not only do they get the feel-good benefits of helping animals in need, they’re taking in a four-legged health booster.
The link between pets and health is stronger than you might think — meaning a furry friend may be the key to a happier and healthier you.
Lon Manson, MD, family medicine physician at Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo, says mounting research shows that having an animal in the house leads to numerous physical and mental health benefits. These include:
- Reduced stress levels
- Decreased blood pressure
- Higher good cholesterol
- Better heart health
- Greater resistance to germs
- Decreased feelings of loneliness
- Increased opportunities for socialization
In his work, Dr. Manson says patients managing anxiety or depression benefit the most from pet companionship, whether it’s a registered emotional support animal or not. In some cases, the improvements can be drastic.
“Normal, day-to-day activities that at one time seemed daunting to them will then seem much more manageable when they have a pet in their life,” he says. “It can be life changing.”
The proof lies in the active and emotional energy that pets require. Pets encourage us to go outside and get more exercise. Studies have also shown that pets helps us get to know more people — creating friendships and social support networks.
Dr. Manson says that dog owners get an added bonus: Outdoor dogs tend to lower the rates of asthma or other allergy-related conditions in young children. Studies suggest that in homes with dogs, infants are less likely to show evidence of pet allergies and are less likely to have eczema. These same infants tend to have higher levels of certain immune system chemicals, which point to stronger immune system activation.
The theory is that kids are exposed to whatever the dog walks on, licks, sniffs and explores, explains Dr. Manson. “All of that stuff may be bacteria that isn’t harmful to us and, when we’re exposed to it at an early age, will make us healthier and stronger.”
Cat, dog, rabbit or guinea pig — any of these pet pals may be just what the doctor ordered.
This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.