How animals can improve your mental and physical health

How animals can improve your mental and physical health

Do you suffer from depression? Or are physical ailments getting you down? My advice to you: get a pet.

Animals are succeeding where psychiatrists are not. What is their secret? It’s certainly not drugs or long couches. It is, rather, their nature, their warm, open, selfless nature. No pets are showing up as key players in nursing homes and institutions for homeless or retarded children.

Doctors are realising why animals are accomplishing so much. The problem with people in similar institutions is that they are in isolation. Many have lost their sense of responsibility. So having a pet to care and nurture is ideal for these people. For instance, dogs give unconditional love. They ask for attention, and when they have got that, they shower you with love and affection. This can make a lonely person feel loved and wanted.

Still, many psychiatrists are skeptical about this new form of treatment. Many feel that all animals can do is help a person to open up and communicate. But they do not cure patients. So in a lot of cases seeking professional help is still recommended. Some psychiatrists use cats and dogs as co-therapists and this seems to be bringing in good results.

In America there is a maximum security hospital for the criminally insane which uses small animals in a pet-therapy program. Birds, fish, gerbils and guinea pigs are the most common animals used. Here are some examples:

A patient did not talk for around four months. The staff decided to give him a pet cockatiel. At night, the bird slept in a cage by his bed. During the day it would sit perched on his shoulder. He started to talk to the bird, and two months after receiving his pet, he started talking with people.

Something similar happened to a suicidal patient serving time for armed robbery. He too was given a bird to care for. His uncooperative, antisocial behaviour changed. He said his problem was that he had never felt compassion. His pet bird help him gain this quality. He is now a student of ornithology & when he was released he encouraged other institutions to use animal therapy programs.

Boys from the age of 7 to 18 years were sent to a certain boys home by court order. Some had never had a real home, some were abused by parents, some were mentally retarded, and others were sent by state reformatories. This home had one other special member- a cat named Tiger. This cat helped transform once very wild & uncontrollable youths into calm & trusting boys.

Children who have been hardened by a cruel outside world, know that a dog or a cat that approaches them for affection doesn’t have some sinister ulterior motive. Thus, in a children’s psychiatric hospital in Maryland, a dog named Skeezer can be seen wandering freely between the wards offering affection to the children. The kids know that they won’t be rejected – they can, therefore, feel safe to show their emotions to the animal. This is a crucial step on the road to recovery.

Studies have also shown that having a pet leads to some very real physical benefits. For instance, people who have pets generally have a lower blood pressure level. It has even been stated by medical experts that a heart patient’s chances of survival increase by three times if he has a pet. When a person calms a pet, the heart rate of both of them falls.

A study conducted by the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore in 1993 showed that heart patients with pets had a much better chance of survival after they left the hospital than those patients who did not have pets. Of 92 patients, one year after release 11 of the 39 without pets had died, whereas just 3 of the 59 with pets had died.

A pet can also fill a lonely void for older persons. As their own children get older, such persons can feel more and more that they are a burden and, worse, that they have been abandoned by their loved ones. The sad result is often depression. A pet can, though, help to fill the gap left in the lives of the elderly.

Pets, then, can be wonderful aids in helping people through difficult times. They should never, though, replace professional assistance. Use the two together for the best results.


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