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Health & Wellness

Your Family Pet Can Save Your Life

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Nearly every family has a great story about their pet! Maybe it’s how they found their dog in the shelter or how their cat came right up to them at the pet store.

WJHL video interview - Dr. Kevin MetzgerWJHL Interview: Dr. Kevin Metzger

Or the time they searched the house looking for the escaped hamster because they didn’t see him curled up under his bedding in the side of the cage.

Or the fish that came home from the pet store and suddenly had babies!

Pets of all shapes and sizes are full of their own personalities and quickly become members of the family. Our dog, Ivy, is active and boisterous, and happy to run and play right alongside our young son, Lincoln. These daily memories are ones we share together, and we aren’t alone. More than 71 million American households are home to at least one pet. Collectively, we spend more than $124 billion on our furry — and sometimes scaly or feathery — friends each year.

It isn’t just the companionship that attracts us to our pets; there are health benefits of pets, too, including some that can help us live longer.

Having a Pet is Good for Your Health

The idea of the health benefits of a pet might seem strange at first. How can a pet be healthy for you? On the surface, some of these health benefits are easier to see than others:

  • Improved daily activity
  • Reduced blood pressure
  • Better mood
  • More socialization

Deeper down, pets can also help families manage high cholesterol or triglycerides because families become more active playing with their new friend. That daily physical activity has mental health benefits as well, like reducing stress and depression.

You don’t even have to be a “dog person” to see the positive effects of pet ownership. A 2009 study found that owning a cat can help lower your blood pressure.

For patients with sleep problems, pets can often cure insomnia as the activity and daily exercise that they help provide leads to a better night’s rest. Also, the support and security of pets reduce stress for fewer sleepless nights.

Dr. Metzger and family walking Ivy
Dogs like Ivy need a lot of exercise – staying active with your pet can improve your health, plus it’s fun to go for walks!

Overall, many pet owners tend to live longer, in large part because they have reduced cardiovascular, or heart-related, ailments.

What Are Service Animals and Emotional Support Pets

Many people who are disabled or suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) keep highly trained service animals as members of the household. These animals — typically dogs — are trained to help with everything from opening refrigerator doors to sensing when a diabetic is in blood glucose distress.

Middle aged woman with emotional support dog

Some service dogs are qualified to help children with developmental disabilities, and these are also the dogs you’ll often see walking with people who are blind or have trouble seeing. Service animals provide independence for their humans.

Emotional Support animals are a little bit different, and even the ADA categorizes them differently. These animals can range from dogs to ferrets, and are helpful for people with terminal or stress-related illnesses. They are available to maintain calm and work as companion animals to be present when someone is in emotional distress.

Elderly family members can also benefit from pet ownership, as pets offer daily social support and improve their overall wellbeing.

If you feel that you or a loved one would benefit from an emotional support animal, talk to your trusted Holston Medical Group family provider. These types of pets are allowed on planes and in spaces (like office buildings) that other pets are not allowed to go, and we are here through it all to help you receive the prescription or support that you need.

Keeping Your Pet Happy and Healthy

Not every family is right for a dog or a cat, but there are health benefits to other pets as well. For instance, if anyone in your home has allergies or asthma, consider pet options that don’t have fur. Aquariums also reduce insomnia and have been shown to help family members with dementia. Still, you can also talk with your HMG family provider about the best pet for your home if asthma or allergies are a concern.

For your health as well as your pet’s health, keeping your furry friend clean is important. Pets can carry diseases and parasites that might not be harmful to them, but that can make us sick. Staying healthy around pets is as easy as maintaining your animal’s vaccinations and washing your hands after playing with your pets or cleaning up after them.

For anyone with a cat at home, clean the litter boxes regularly for both your health and your pet’s health and happiness. Sometimes, changing the cat boxes can come with health risks, so it’s best to read all of the labels on the litter you choose.

Dr. Metzger and family at the park with Ivy, their dog

Make sure to involve your entire household in the care of your family pet. Kids learn so much while growing up around animals, like responsibility, respect for all living creatures, and lessons about life and death. While we love to watch Ivy and Lincoln play together, children younger than 5 years old should always be supervised when interacting with family pets.

If you don’t already have a family fur baby in your home, your HMG healthcare provider is a great place to start to talk about a new addition. They can help you decide how a pet will fit into your health journey and keep you aware of the different health benefits and risks specific to your family that might accompany pet care.

Talking with your family provider about the best options for you and your family will set your crew on a path to finding the right pet companion that can improve your health.