Rx for health: Add a pet

Lupus Foundation of America

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May is National Pet Month. Run a Google search on “pets help our health,” and you’ll find a dozen or more articles and blog posts on the subject. Most households in the United States count at least one companion animal as a member of the family, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The benefits of animal companionship can come from a wagging tail or a rumbling purr. But having a pet has also been found to decrease blood pressure and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It also might make you feel less lonely, the CDC reports.

Research has uncovered these facts on the connection between our pets and our health. We think the positive news, although not specific to lupus, can be good for us all.
  • Walking your dog is an ideal way to get daily exercise. A study published in March 2012 in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that people who walked their dogs regularly got more physical activity and had lower body mass indexes than those who did not walk their dogs. And those who didn’t own dogs reported more diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and depression than those who did own dogs, according to the study.
  • Having pets may be good for kids. Some research suggests that owning a pet during childhood may lower the risk of children developing allergies. And children who have pets tend to be more trusting and have an enhanced sense of safety, self-confidence, and other important qualities, reports an article published in June 2012 in Australian Family Physician.
  • Pets can help us cope with life’s stressors. A December 2011 study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology® concluded that we can obtain critical social support from our pets: Pet owners had better self-esteem and scored higher on measures such as conscientiousness and lower on measures such as fear of attachment. They also had an increased sense of well-being. The social support benefits from pets were complementary to support given by people, and pets helped combat feelings of social rejection, the studies found.

There are some caveats to having certain pets, such as the potential for allergies from skin dander or fur, and the rare risk of a transmitted infection. You’ll want to do some research to help you decide which animal will be right for you. But if you’ve been looking for some medication-free ways to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and melt away stress, consider adding an animal companion to your family!