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Could Your Dog Be a Therapy Dog?

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Four-Legged Friends

How pets can help our health

It turns out there's something to that old saying about man's best friend. Health experts say having a dog or other furry, feathery or even scaly pal can improve your life in many ways—from helping you stay fit to nuzzling you when you're down.

1. Pets get you moving.
This may be the most obvious benefit to pet ownership: Pets get your backside in motion. Most of us spend the day sitting at a desk. In general, we get less exercise. That morning or evening walk goes a long way for you and your dog. While dogs may offer the best physical benefits, playing games with your cat or riding your horse gets you to engage in some level of activity, which is always better than parking it on the couch.

2. Pets are hilarious.
One of the funniest things in the world might be a cat interacting with a vacuum cleaner. Nothing makes us smile and laugh more than the antics of pets. Laughing also is known to boost the immune system and increase quality of life.

3. Pets calm you down.
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that pets may be healthy for your heart. After observing adults who had suffered heart attacks, they found that dog owners were much more likely to be alive a year later than those who didn't own dogs. Most pets are experts in sensing when you are emotionally hurt or upset and they may try to soothe you. Northwest Community Hospital even has an animal-assisted therapy (AAT) program, which allows patients to spend time with trained dogs during a hospital stay. These friendly, lovable therapy dogs are pros at improving patients' well-being.

4. Pets make us less self-centered.
People spend a lot of time throughout the day in their own heads, thinking of all those things on the to-do list. Humans spend far too much time worrying and fretting. It has become increasingly hard to be present in the delightful moment at hand. Pets are masters of the present tense. Having something that you must remember to feed, water and walk makes you think about something other than yourself throughout the day.

5. Pets can make you more social.
And we're not talking about the Facebook kind of social, although some pets even have their own accounts these days. We take our dogs on walks, to dog parks or to pet stores. Maybe you and your pet are involved in 4-H or pet shows. This gives the owner a chance to interact with other people. Even if you have a pet that is mostly homebound, a turtle or a gerbil, for example, ownership of that pet is something you have in common with others. It's a conversation starter. A topic to bond with others over.

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Last Updated 04/10/2009