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Health Benefits of Pet Companionship

Posted 11/23/2016 by UHBlog

A four-legged friend may help you more than you think. Ask us.

Health Benefits of Pet Companionship

Does seeing a dog or cat brighten your day? It’s not just in your head. Spending quality time with animals can positively impact your overall health, says Reverend Nancy Lynch, MDiv, MBA, BCC, who knows this firsthand as part of the University Hospitals Pet Pals program.

“From a physiological standpoint, seeing a dog can release feel-good hormones such as serotonin and oxytocin that can elevate your mood,” she says.

Rev. Lynch’s dog, Kayla, a 7-year-old golden retriever, is a therapy dog in Pet Pals. Unlike a service dog who may be trained to help a specific patient, such as an autistic child, a therapy dog can provide stress relief and unconditional love to anyone.

“A service dog shouldn’t be petted while working, but it’s a therapy dog’s job to be petted,” says Rev. Lynch.

You may run into therapy dogs in hospitals, nursing homes, disaster areas and even college campuses. Although your animal at home may not be trained as a therapy pet, the health benefits of their companionship still ring true. These include:

  • Soothing effects. Petting your dog or cat helps lower your blood pressure and stress levels by releasing relaxation hormones that help you slow down.
    “Animals have a calming effect," Rev. Lynch says. "When my dog walks down the hall, people say, ‘She makes me happy just seeing her.’”
  • Connection. Not only are pets often a great conversation starter, but their presence can help an owner combat loneliness through companionship.
  • Elevated mood. “In a hospital setting in particular, seeing a dog – or sometimes a pony – is unexpected and people get delight out of it,” she says. “Animals can help foster a sense of normalcy.”
  • Heart benefits. Pets can minimize your risk for heart attack by decreasing blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Physical wellness. Pets, especially dogs, require play and exercise. This is turn can help you lower or keep your weight in check.“Having a dog encourages you to go outside and be active,” says Rev. Lynch.

To experience the benefit of one of the 130 therapy dogs in the University Hospitals Pet Pals program or to learn more about the program, visit our Pet Pals page. Patients can call the University Hospitals “Woof Line” at 216-844-WOOF to request an inpatient Pet Pal visit.

Reverend Nancy Lynch, MDiv, MBA, BCC, is the director of Spiritual Care at the University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital and University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with any University Hospitals doctor online.

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