Health Benefits of Pet Ownership

By Lynette A. Hart, PhD, Professor, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California

The company of a pet relaxes and entertains people, but the benefits of pet ownership go beyond simple joy. Studies have shown that keeping a pet improves the health and well-being of the people in the household. During stressful times, the comfort of a pet protects against depression and loneliness. People of all ages, both healthy and ill, benefit from living with a pet. In other studies, college-age women living with pets were less lonely than if they lived alone, and elderly women living with only a pet had better mental health than those who lived alone. Animal companions, both cats and dogs, help ward off depression and loneliness among people with AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease. Stressful situations have less of an impact on elderly pet owners than on those who do not own pets—the pet owners visit their physician less frequently during such times.

Pets allow their owners to feel needed as caregivers and nurturers, while also nurturing their owner. An owner’s mood or physical capabilities do not change a pet’s affection. An animal’s unconditional affection often increases its owner’s ability to cope with personal setbacks and depression. Pets reduce loneliness in a number of ways. Individuals who live “alone” with a pet are actually part of a family; they can look forward to being greeted and recognized when they walk in the door. The simple acts of feeding and caring for a pet can make its owner feel needed and provide another reason for living and staying healthy.

Pets also motivate people to be more active and social. A pet is a powerful ally for starting conversations and making new acquaintances. Walking the dog provides not only physical exercise but also an opportunity to interact with humans, such as other dog owners and curious children. Many people are inspired by walking their dogs, using their pets as volunteers in nursing homes, or even just actively grooming, training, and pampering their pet. Without this bond, they would be less involved and engaged in living and more vulnerable to depression. Walking the dog and being outdoors where social contact is possible are healthful effects of living with a canine companion.

The daily comfort, social interaction, and motivation provided by pets improve cardiovascular health and lower blood pressure. Even relaxing with, talking to, or simply watching an animal can lower a person’s blood pressure. One study of patients with high blood pressure showed that those who were given pets handled stressful tasks better than those who relied on blood pressure medication alone. Additionally, research shows people are more likely to survive the year after a heart attack if they have both a companion dog and a human social support network. Animal companionship is commonly linked to lower death rates and better longterm health.

The Tick Talk | Verona Veterinary Medical Service, Verona, WI

The Tick TalkThree American Dog Ticks (Dermacentor variabilis) isolated on white background.

‘Tis the season for ticks in Wisconsin. These skin parasites can attach and feed on the blood of your pets. The bite is generally not painful, but the tick can transmit diseases to your pet.

Ticks have a complicated life cycle. The timeline of egg to adult actually takes two years! They move through four life stages and must ingest blood between each stage.

 

tick LIFE CYCLE

Stages:
Egg – Eggs are laid in vegetation
Larvae (Seed Tick) – Find their first host (usually a rodent or bird), stay attached for a few days, then release and fall onto the ground
Nymph – This stage lives in an inactive state through the winter and become active again in the spring. They find their second host and feed again. They eventually detach and shed their skin as they enter the adult phase.
Adult – Adults engage in “quest” behavior, meaning that they crawl up to the tips of plants with their legs extended and wait for new hosts onto which they can grasp. Once they have had their fill of a blood meal for 1-2 weeks, they fall off again. At this point, the males die and the females lay eggs in vegetation completing the cycle. Adults who do not find hosts can survive the winter by hunkering down in leaf piles.

 

The best method of disease control is prevention via the use of products like Frontline, NexGard, and Seresto collars. When ticks attach, it takes many hours before disease is transmitted, so another good method of prevention is to check your pet for ticks daily and remove them.  You can bring your pet to us to remove ticks, or you can do it at home. To remove a tick, wet the tick with rubbing alcohol and use tweezers or a tick twister to grasp the tick’s head as closely as possible to your pet’s skin. After grasping, you can gently pull the tick out. Do not grasp a tick by its hind end because that can squeeze the contents of the tick into your pet, and there is a good chance that you will leave the head embedded in your pet’s skin. Kill the tick by placing it in a container of rubbing alcohol before disposing of it. It is very likely that the site of tick attachment will appear red and irritated. This irritation usually goes away within a week, but please let us know if it does not as it may have become infected.

We recommend that our canine patients have bloodwork done yearly to test for the following tick diseases: Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, and Ehrlichiosis. As always, if you ever have any questions about your pet’s health, please give us a call.

 

 

Sources: 
Veterinary Information Network
Veterinary Partner

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