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Friends with Benefits: Adopting a Pet

By: America's ER Medical Center | Published 06/06/2021

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by Susannah Wollman 

We’ve probably all heard that adopting a pet is healthy, but is it really true?

In 2019, the Health Resources and Services Administration described a “loneliness epidemic” as an increasing societal health concern. [1] And that was before the Covid-19 crisis.

Interestingly, Shelter Animals Count, which runs a database that tracks shelter and rescue activity, looked at pet adoptions during the pandemic. The group, which tracks about 500 rescue organizations across the country, recorded 26,000 more pet adoptions in 2020 than in the year before — a rise of about 15 percent. [2] 

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How can adopting a pet increase my mental health?

Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million Americans; it is also the most common mental health illness.

If there is any upside from the Covid pandemic, it is that adoption of cats and dogs is on the rise nationally. Perhaps this trend is due to mental well-being that results from bringing a new pet into your home.

The first research on pets and mental health was published 30 years ago by Psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University and Psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania. Their experiments showed vast improvements for patients’ stress levels after just 5 minutes of petting an animal (even for people who don’t particularly like animals). Here’s what their research showed.

  • blood pressure was lowered
  • heart rate slowed
  • breathing became more regular
  • muscles relaxed

All of those factors are stress-related. Since then, research has shown that playing with a dog or cat actually raises our levels of serotonin and dopamine, hormones that calm and relax the nervous system. It also reduces cortisol in the system, a hormone the body produces when under stress. Studies have even shown that dogs can help calm hyperactive or aggressive children.

A CDC report showed that having a pet dog in the home was associated with a decreased probability of childhood anxiety. [3] That leads to the idea that children who grow up with pets may have happier and healthier teen years.

One controlled study involving elderly people suffering from depression found that among two groups studied, those who were caring for crickets were less depressed after eight weeks than those who had no live creature to care for. [4] 

With so many studies showing that pets can produce mentally healthier people at any age, adopting a cat or dog (or even some crickets) may help alleviate the negative effects of Covid restrictions.

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Can owning a pet help with other health issues?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, absolutely. Here’s what their research has shown. Having a pet can:

  1. Decrease blood pressure
  2. Decrease cholesterol levels
  3. Decrease triglyceride levels
  4. Decrease feeling of loneliness
  5. Increase opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
  6. Increase opportunities of socialization

Thus, the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring owners a lot of happiness.

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How do I choose a pet?

Of course, adopting a pet is an important decision. The last thing you need is another mouth to feed or medical bill to pay to increase your anxiety. That’s why it’s crucial to know what kind of commitment you’re getting yourself into in these uncertain times. We have compiled a list of considerations before you decide to get a dog or cat.

A new pet is a big commitment. Determine upfront that you are adopting for the lifetime of the pet. Nothing is more upsetting to a pet than to be passed from home to home or worse, shelter to shelter. If you get tired of pet ownership and decide to return your furry friend to a shelter, you are drastically reducing the chances for a successful adoption for that pet in the future.

Time and money are two things you need more of when you live with an animal as a family member. So be willing to allocate those resources before you bring a new pet home. (if you need help for your pet during the pandemic, check out this link.)

Help your new pet feel right at home. When you first bring your new dog or cat home, don’t expect them to immediately understand that this is their new home. Give them time to acclimate. If they seem a little shy, realize that it will take time for them to feel comfortable in their surroundings. Give them a little space—a place that they can call their own. A bed or crate in a quiet place that offers peace and relaxation.

Set up a schedule right away. Regular feeding time, potty time, and walks for the new dog will help him get used to his new life. Every animal is a creature of habit and the sooner he can recognize a routine, the quicker he will get used to his new family.

Mental stimulation is as important as physical activity. Toys suitable for dogs and cats are readily available at your local pet shop, many will deliver straight to your door.

Make a long-term plan. As people begin to return to work and school, your pet’s routine will probably change. How do you plan to care for your pet once restrictions mean you are freer to move around and leave the house? Remember that your pet doesn’t read the newspaper or listen to the broadcast, so he won’t know why you’ve decided not to be around 24/7 anymore. Consider the change in your situation before you commit.

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Where do I go to adopt a new pet?

Here is a great list of nearby rescues to get you started on your journey to finding a new furry friend.

Shelters Near Magnolia & The Woodlands Area

Shelters Near Cypress Area

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Can’t adopt just yet? Consider fostering!

If you aren’t ready to adopt just yet but still want to help a pet in need, consider fostering from a local shelter like the ones listed above!

Fostering means that an animal comes home to live with you temporarily while they find their forever home.

Benefits of fostering:

  • Increases the chance that the animal will be adopted
  • Discover if you are ready to own a pet
  • Keeps animals out of shelters
  • Many rescues assist with food and other costs associated with the animal while in your care
  • Find out how your other pets act with a new animal before adopting

 

FOOTNOTES

[1] https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/NAMI-HelpLine/COVID-19-Information-and-Resources/COVID_Isolation_Guide.pdf

[2] https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2021/01/06/animal-shelters-coronavirus-pandemic/

[3] https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2015/15_0204.htm

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26383099/

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