Leverage of companion animals on human health

The caboodle of companion animals includes commonly dogs and cats, but people also keep house rabbits, ferrets, hamsters, gerbils, fancy rats, guinea pigs, avian pets, such as canaries, parakeets, corvids and some exotic pets as their companions. The dog is considered as the first domesticated species. Human- animal bond is a reciprocally beneficial and vibrant rapport between humans and animals influenced by the behaviors essential to the health and well-being of both. Many people intuitively believe that they derive health benefits from relationships with their animal companions, and numerous scientific studies performed over the past 25 years support this belief. Among other benefits, animals have been demonstrated to improve human cardiovascular health, reduce stress, decrease loneliness and depression, and facilitate social interactions among people who choose to have pets. Additionally, many terminally ill, pregnant, or immune-compromised people are urged to relinquish their animal companions due to concerns about zoonoses (diseases that may be transmitted between humans and non-human animals). However, giving up their beloved friends may have a detrimental, rather than the beneficial effect on their overall health. In many instances, human health professionals can contribute to the welfare of their patients by encouraging them to maintain bonds with their pets, even in the face of serious illnesses and other challenges.

I Companion animals have been shown to provide valuable physiological, psychological, and social benefits. Numerous physiological benefits by pet interaction, whether active or passive, tends to lower anxiety levels in people, and thus decrease the onset, severity, or progression of stress-related conditions. Furthermore, it is thought that the reduction in blood pressure achieved through dog ownership can be equal to the reduction achieved by changing to a low salt diet or cutting down on alcohol. Pet ownership and another animal contact, such as petting animals and examining fish in an aquarium, have specifically been demonstrated to provide cardiovascular benefits like increased survival time after myocardial infarction for dog owners, decreased risk factors for cardiovascular disease, particularly lower systolic blood pressure, plasma cholesterol and plasma triglycerides. These beneficial effects of pets may be mediated by increased exercise associated with pet ownership as well as decreased stress levels. In addition to providing cardiovascular benefits, decreased pulse rate, increased skin temperature and decreased muscle tension has been seen in elderly people watching an aquarium. The hormone levels of dopamine and endorphins associated with happiness and well-being have been seen increasing along with the decreased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone following a quiet 30-minute session of interaction with a dog. Other studies document that children exposed to pets in early life experience enhanced immune function with a significant increase in IgA levels resulting in fewer allergies and less wheezing and asthma. A significant reduction in minor health problems for at least 10 months after acquiring a dog has been seen.

Psychological benefits

Pets play a significant supportive role, reducing depression and solitude and providing companionship and a need for responsibility. Pets help children to develop in various areas including love, attachment, comfort, responsibility, nurturance, competence, sensorimotor and nonverbal learning. Children exhibit a more playful mood, more focused and more aware of their social environments when in the presence of a therapy dog. Additional studies have shown that Alzheimer’s patients living at home with pets have fewer mood swings and fewer episodes of aggression and anxiety than non-pet owners.  Female pet-owners that have suffered physical abuse report their pets as an important source of emotional support. In psychiatric disability patients like Autism spectrum disorder (ASD), dogs and horses are primarily used as an alternative therapy. In the case of Mobility-impaired individuals, service dogs have shown the overall improved quality of life for their human companions through increased independence and self-esteem, decreased seclusion, and frequent friendliness from strangers. 

Social benefits

Animals often serve to facilitate social interactions between people. Some individuals with visible disabilities who are socially avoided by others, and in settings such as nursing homes, the role of animals as social catalysts is especially important. Elderly people who live in mobile homes and walk their dogs in the area have more conversations focused in the present rather than in the past than those people who walk without their dogs. Studies show that disabled individuals in wheelchairs accompanied by their service dogs during shopping trips receive a median of eight friendly approaches from strangers, versus only one approach on trips without a dog. In addition to acting as social catalysts, service dogs also provide obvious practical benefits such as alerting their owners to visual hazards, auditory warnings, and impending seizures; assisting with mobility and seeking help in emergencies. 

In Kashmir-The populace of Kashmir don’t prefer dogs as their pets because of religious prohibition in Islam, but fewer people in Jammu keep them as pets. In Kashmir, most of the people keep birds, cats, & rodents like rabbits as their pets. However, the trend of keeping dogs as a pet in Kashmir is changing from past few years due to the awareness, security issues, urbanization, pet shops, and new established veterinary clinics in cities. Nowadays veterinarians are also encountering different clinical cases of pets in Kashmir starting from a small bunny to a giant Great Dane dog.

How can health care professionals help?  

The first step is to recognize the extent of animal companionship in the country. A health care professional must provide accurate advice about the benefits and risks associated with keeping the pet. Most negative health outcomes related to companion animals involve diseases that can be transferred from animals to humans like toxoplasmosis, salmonella infection, avian psittacosis, injuries from bites/scratches, and allergies. In the case of psychiatric patients suffering from depression, anxiety disorders, and mood swings, the health care professionals must advise their patients of keeping pets so that they can relieve their anxiety levels with good and effective results. Medicos should give awareness to people regarding zoonotic diseases (animal – human transmission) so that they can take all preventive measures before buying and keeping a pet. In addition, health care professionals must follow the worldwide one health initiative achieved by the collaborative efforts of human and veterinary health care professionals to improve human, animal, and environmental health. As we know that there is a massive rise in consumption  of cardiovascular, cholesterol lowering, and antianxiety drugs these days with concomitant increase in cost and the adverse effects of polypharmacy but if incorporating patient activities with pets as an adjunct to current therapy capitalizes on resources already in place and enhances the patient’s perception of normalcy without additional cost. The physician’s acknowledgment of the importance of pets in a patient’s life can also strengthen the therapeutic alliance. 





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