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C-Force: The Health Benefits of a Multi-Species Household

: Chuck Norris on

Emotional exhaustion brought on by chronic stress and psychologically taxing events is now recognized as a dangerous and debilitating force in this country. According to research conducted by the job-search website Zippia, as a result, 89% of America's workers experienced burnout in the past year in response to work stress. If you are unable to eliminate the source of such relentless stress, it is often left for the individual to turn to whatever coping resources they have available.

One important resource that does not get the recognition it deserves is the relief that we humans find in the power of our pets. A recent Forbes report says an estimated 66% of U.S. households (86.9 million homes) contain a pet of some kind. These animals often serve as a source of comfort and support. A Human Animal Bond Research Institute study found pet ownership was strongly linked to improved human health, as 87% of participants experienced mental health and/or physical health benefits from the human-animal bond.

Back in 2018, research on human-animal interactions was still a relatively new area of study. As reported by the National Institute of Health, findings at the time revealed that "interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood."

Dr. Layla Esposito is a program director in the Child Development and Behavior Branch and the Pediatric Growth and Nutrition Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a federal institute that supports research on child health and human development. She previously oversaw the National Institute of Health's Human-Animal Interaction Research Program. In discussing the program's findings, she notes, "There's not one answer about how a pet can help somebody with a specific condition. ... If your goal is reducing stress, sometimes watching fish swim can result in a feeling of calmness."

"The foundations of mindfulness include attention, intention, compassion, and awareness," adds Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. "All of those things are things that animals bring to the table. People kind of have to learn it. Animals do this innately."

"Another study found that children with autism spectrum disorder were calmer while playing with guinea pigs in the classroom," NIH reports. "When the children spent 10 minutes in a supervised group playtime with guinea pigs, their anxiety levels dropped. The children also had better social interactions and were more engaged with their peers. The researchers suggest that the animals offered unconditional acceptance, making them a calm comfort to the children."

As reported by Alexandre Douzet in a Forbes article, recent research shows "pet ownership is at an all-time high," and pet owners today "have a closer relationship with their pets than previous generations. ... Today's modern, multi-species family is more bonded to their pets than ever. ... The global pet care market is estimated to grow from $246 billion in 2023 to $368 billion by 2030. Spending on veterinary services in the U.S. alone exceeded $38 billion in 2023, with growth in emergency care and specialty services contributing significantly."

Much recent research is focused on dogs and cats, as is the recent Human Animal Bond Research Institute study. Their study focuses on "the results of a survey of 16,000 dog and cat owners and 1,200 veterinarians across eight countries and four continents." Of those participating in the survey, "95 percent of pet owners globally consider their pet a part of their family, while 98 percent reported that they have personally experienced health benefits from having a pet in their lives," says Dr. Mike McFarland, chief medical officer at Zoetis and a veterinarian with over 35 years' experience. "The pandemic has elevated the role of the human-animal bond in people's lives, and (the survey's) data shows this is being felt on a global scale."

If you already de-stress by playing with dogs or watching videos of them online, "you might be onto something," reports CNN's Kristen Rogers. "Multiple studies have shown the emotional, physiological and cognitive benefits of interactions with animals, especially dogs - such as boosted energy, increased positive emotions or lowered risk for memory loss."

 

Rogers reports that, according to the authors of a PLOS One study, "animal-assisted health interventions are being increasingly used in diverse fields."

A PLOS One study involving 30 adults in Seongnam, South Korea, was conducted between May and June 2022. The goal was to find out how "mood was affected by specific activities -- rather than just general interaction with a dog -- by both objectively measuring brain activity and asking participants about their subjective emotions. ... Each participant did eight activities with a 4-year-old, well-trained, female standard poodle owned by the study's lead author. "The activities included meeting, playing, feeding, massaging, grooming, photographing, hugging, and walking the dog." The process took around an hour after which the participants' brain waves were measured.

The authors found that "playing and walking with a dog increased the strength of alpha-band oscillations ... which generally indicate stability and relaxation," Rogers writes. "Alpha wave activity is linked with improved memory and reduced mental stress, according to the study.

"Grooming, playing and gently massaging the dog was linked with strengthened beta-band oscillation, which is associated with heightened attention and concentration. Participants also felt significantly less depressed, stressed, and fatigued after interacting with the poodle."

The report also reminds us that pet ownership comes with responsibilities. With a dog comes financial investment: buying or rescue costs, supplies, vet visits, toys, food, pet-sitting and more. There is also another equally important investment -- "the quality time a dog needs on a regular basis," Rogers writes.

In fulfilling your end of the relationship comes the greatest reward. As an anonymous and often repeated quote says, "There are no bad days when you come home to a dog's love."

Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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