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Pets – Man’s Best Friends May 13, 2010

Posted by Dr. Jacqueline E. Campbell in Health, Wellness.
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Animals are such agreeable friends – they ask no questions, they pass no criticisms.  – George Eliot

When I gave him the pain killing injection he just opened his eyes and blinked. He did not move, he just made a small sound. It was then that I began to acknowledge that my beloved dog Caesar was dying . Caesie as I loved to call him, came into our family in 1992. He could talk – he used to greet us in the morning by saying “Hello “and “ Morning “. That used to both freak out and amuse people! He also loved to greet me by lifting his front right paw to shake hands. Caesar had a penchant for lifting up my skirt and looking under me. I was even advised by an elderly female relative to “not wear skirts around that dog – Mind he does not rape you”. He was the ultimate alpha dog. He did not take kindly to any other male dog (at one time I had seven dogs and had to resort to inventive ways to separate him from the other males). At the time of his passing his companions were two female dogs. Even in his old age, he loved to exert his power over them.

I have always kept pets – not only dogs, but birds, guinea pigs ,rabbits and fish and for a short time when I was in primary school , a lizard . That is until Mummy discovered my beloved Lizzie who lived in my bedside lamp shade. Well the rest is history – my Mummy killed Lizzie.

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “pet” as “an animal that is tamed and treated with affection, kept for companionship or amusement”. I estimate that more that half of Jamaican households have pets. They play an important part in our lives and many are treated as ‘one of the family’. Pets provide a constant source of enjoyment, companionship and fun, and many thrive in a family and household environment.My pets make me feel good and I daresay that those good feelings stem from the unconditional love that I receive from them.

Many studies show that pets literally make their owners healthier. Research conducted by the University of Minnesota highlighted the importance of regular contact with domestic animals. According to this study, having a cat around the house can cut the risk of having a heart attack or a stroke by almost half. “For years we have known that psychological stress and anxiety are related to cardiovascular events, particularly heart attacks, says Dr Adnan Qureshi, executive director of the Minnesota Stroke Institute at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. According to Qureshi, the research shows that “essentially there is a benefit in relieving those inciting factors from pets”. In a recent study, Dr Deborah Wells of Queen’s University Belfast found that dog owners tend to suffer less from ill health, have lower cholesterol, and lower blood pressure. “It is possible that dogs can directly promote our well-being by buffering us from stress,” says Dr Wells. A large-scale survey of more than 11,000 Australians, Chinese and Germans also proved pet-owners enjoy better health. Over a five year period, pet owners made 15 – 20% fewer annual visits to the doctor than non pet-owners. The results showed that the healthiest group – those who went to the doctor least – was those who continuously owned a pet. The unhealthiest groups were people who had never owned a pet, or no longer did. The benefit of pet ownership isn’t limited to physical well-being. Owning a pet can help recently widowed people in dealing with stress in that they are able to talk to their animals at a time when they feel unable to share their feelings with other people.

Therapy

In the United States, more than half of all nursing homes, clinics and hospitals use animals in a therapeutic capacity. The effect of dogs or cats is especially dramatic in the clinically depressed patient whose withdrawal can be lessened by the introduction of the pet.

Relaxation

Tests have revealed that stroking dogs and cats can lower the blood pressure and heart rate of humans. This may be related to the simple fact that caring for certain pets introduces added responsibilities, such as exercising the dog and leading a more active life.

Recovery from illness

Pets can aid recovery from illness. Research indicates that owning a pet can improve a person’s chances of survival after a life-threatening illness such as a heart attack. Research by psychologist Dr June McNicholas showed that women with breast cancer reported significantly better feelings of control over their disease and treatment if they owned a pet. Animal owners also felt less disfigured after breast cancer surgery and more than 87 per cent said their pet provided them with support in their illness.

Children

It has been scientifically proven that children who grew up with a pet developed better social skills and had a greater respect for all living things around them, than those who did not have the benefits of pet ownership. This happens because children learn that animals consistently show non-judgmental love and loyalty in addition to experiencing pain, hunger, illness and death. Pet ownership helps prepare them for life.

DR. JACQUELINE E. CAMPBELL B.Sc. (Hons) M.Phil. (Pharmacology) M.B., B.S.

Dr. Jacqueline Elaine Campbell is a family physician whose special interests are Pharmacology, and the use of Alternative/Complementary Medicine in the treatment of diabetes and other diseases that are common in Jamaica.

She is the author of A Patient’s Guide to the Treatment of Diabetes Mellitus.

http://www.6westmedical.com

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