When you walk into a hospital room, you expect to see a nurse or a doctor. But in some hospitals you might also see a dog or a cat, or even a rabbit or a turtle. These pets aren’t there to be treated, however. They’re part of the medical team! The animals don’t have medical degrees, of course. They help patients get better simply by being there.
After 30 years of study, researchers are convinced that animals provide many health benefits. These range from lowering blood pressure to faster healing after surgery. One study shows that even 10 minutes with an animal can significantly lower blood pressure. There are many examples of how pets improve people’s health. For instance, studies show that pet owners have lower cholesterol levels than non-owners do. Pet owners are also in better physical health overall and have fewer doctor visits. Also, people who have suffered a heart attack live longer if they have a pet. And pet owners have better mental health because pets make them happier, more relaxed and less stressed.
Did you have a pet as a child? Do you grandparents own a pet? The health benefits of pets are quite strong for both children and the elderly. For example, a pet can help children cope with family problems, such as illness or the death of a relative. Studies also show that children who own pets are more likely to be involved in sports and hobbies. Emotionally disturbed and mentally ill children are also helped greatly by pets. Animal calm children and improve their behavior and even their mental abilities. Animals do wonders for the elderly too, such as helping them live longer, healthier lives. How do they do this? For one thing, pets make older people feel less lonely and depressed. And some pets, such as dogs, encourage elders to exercise by getting out for walks. Some aid groups take pets into nursing homes to cheer up the residents. Pets bring out smiles of happiness from elders and help improve their quality of life.
Some groups also bring pets into hospitals. Most often, the animals are dogs, but they can also be cat, rabbits, birds, and others. They are called therapy animals. These animals are trained to give comfort and affection to patients. Good therapy animals are friendly, gentle, and patient. They allow people to pet and talk to them. They bring laughter an enjoyment to sick people and help them feel better.
There are quite a few animal healing programs today. One interesting example is the Dolphin Program. Researchers at universities and dolphin centers worldwide study the healing effects of swimming with dolphins. Some researchers believe that the sound dolphins make underwater can heal people. Others say dolphins heal because they make people feel peaceful and happy. Dolphin programs for children with special needs have been very successful. Even patients with serious illness improve by swimming with dolphins.
Another interesting example of animals helping sick people is a program that uses dogs to detect cancer. Researchers have found that dogs can smell cancer in patients’ breath because it contains certain chemicals. A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than that of humans. In studies, trained dogs have identified cancer in early stages between 88 and 97 percent of the time. Since detecting cancer early is important to patient’s survival, these trained dogs could save many lives.
Researchers know that animals make people feel better and extend their lives. But they can’t fully explain why. They suspect it’s because people can count on pets to be there, always loving and never judging. This gives people a good feeling and relaxes them. Patients feel calm and happy around pets. This mental and emotional state helps them feel better physically. Whatever the reasons, there is no doubt that animals are good medicine for people of all ages. Pets have a valuable place in homes, hospitals, and all places of care.