Pets are the Best Medicine!

This week I have been thinking about the benefits of owning a pet, a dog for me.  Ironically, I’ve been more aware because our dog has been sick.  This morning I was able to bring him home from the veterinary hospital where he had been for two days to treat pancreatitis.  Our family was sad and disturbed that our dear little friend was in such pain.  My husband and I slept poorly.  It reminded us of having a sick child back in the day.  Friends and extended family offered sympathy and encouragement.  Having him home, snoring on the living room floor, has restored some order to our home.  But he’s a dog, right? Why the emotional fuss?

Many times in my work I have found that children who are upset by problems in school or at home are comforted by their pets.  I am sure that many of you have seen this in your families.  There is something about a dog’s steady, patient attention that is consoling and calming.  (I’ll talk about dogs because I’m allergic to cats and that has severely limited my contact with them.  I understand from feline lovers among my friends that cats offer similar benefits.)

If you have a young dog who likes to play, playing with the dog offers a great break from homework or other stressful activity.  I find that just sitting on the floor to pet my dog, gives me a good cognitive break from work.  It refreshes my brain. Playing with a dog can get a couch potato child outside to throw a ball.

Recently I even saw a report of a study that shows that dogs in the classroom can help children learn to read!  A study done at the University of California, Davis showed that children who got to read aloud to therapy dogs in their classroom for ten weeks improved 12% more than their counterparts who did not have the same opportunity.  A dog is an attentive listener who does not criticize.  This is what many children need for them to practice reading and become more fluent.  Another report tells of a five year old program at the New York City Public Library in which dog and trainer teams visit branch libraries monthly.  Children can choose a book to read aloud to the dog, and children and adults are seeing similar benefits to the young readers.  This is definitely something to try at home if you child resists her daily reading assignment!

A report last summer in the Huffington Post reported research that children who grow up from infancy with a dog or cat in the house are actually more healthy—fewer colds and ear infections.  The post goes on to cite other research that shows that children and adults who have dogs have higher self-esteem, and they are less prone to depression.

I close with a salute to the four footed friends who enrich our lives.  I imagine that you also have good stories about how a dog or cat has offered you solace or given you a cause to smile when you needed it.  Give that animal a pat for me.  I’m going to take a break with Max.

 

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Comments

10 Responses to “Pets are the Best Medicine!”
  1. The benefits of pets are well-documented in research and also just known to all of us pet lovers! I wrote a post about dogs this past spring! Thanks for this! Glad your doggie is well!

    http://birthtouch.com/2012/04/increase-the-joy-decrease-the-drama-with-companion-pets/

  2. Carolyn,

    I know that both our dog and our cats are a source of comfort for my kids (although I don’t know that I could say that the kids are a comfort to the pets). The reading research is fascinating though. I’ll have to remember that.

    Thanks,
    Ann

  3. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Kathy,
    I just checked your blog–I remember it from last winter. I need to read Following Atticus. He’s also a miniature schnauzer, like my Max. I find a work break with Max is a great “cognitive” rest.
    Best,
    Carolyn

  4. dr.cstone says:

    Dear Ann,
    I can imagine that your kids don’t always “comfort” the pets. And yet the pets will be there when the kids need them. Resourceful pets are pretty tolerant.
    I’m recommending reading to pets now to families I work with.
    Best,
    Carolyn

  5. JoAnn Jordan says:

    My dogs are great companions to our family. Our house always feels empty when they aren’t here. I have watched very ill people in nursing facilities show a relaxed facial response and increased alertness when therapy animals were curled next to them or their head rested on their hand.

  6. dr.cstone says:

    It’s really something isn’t it? So calming, connecting. I find that petting my dog is a great break from work–rests my brain and helps me focus afterwards. Thanks for your observation, JoAnn.

  7. I must confess that I’m not a “pet person,” and it took a lot of convincing (whining?) from my husband for us to get a dog. I love watching my husband and daughter with the dog, though, and I do enjoy having some life in the house on the days I stay home to work.

  8. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Rachelle,
    I’m glad that you get some pleasure from the dog and that you don’t get too stuck with dog care. They do need attention, walking, etc. For me the rewards are worth it.
    Best,
    Carolyn

  9. Bodhi says:

    More information on the R.E.A.D. programs in Massachusetts is available here: http://www.therapyanimals.org/Massachusetts.html

  10. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks for the info, Bodhi! I hope it’s helpful to some people.