Making a pet part of your family is a decision that should never be taken lightly. One must consider the time, effort, work and costs associated with caring for an animal.  This is one endeavour that should not be taken by the faint of heart or without careful planning.  With great risk comes great reward; there are benefits to pet ownership including improving your overall health.

The most obvious benefits to pet ownership are love and companionship.  Our pets love us unconditionally without reservation or equivocation.  There is nothing more gratifying than coming home after a stressful day and you are greeted by a small four-legged friend who is so excited that she shakes with anticipation.  This emotional attachment has been shown to reduce stress, improve outlook and fend off social isolation.  Socially, pets can help in other ways; they can be an ice breaker or topic of conversation. We often fill our social circles with people who are like ourselves.  Similarly, owners will often share stories and are drawn to others who share their passion for their pets. (Please Note: I am not advocating getting a pet as a means of meeting people.)

Physically, our pets can challenge us to get active.  We have a 17 lb, 3 year-old hairy alarm clock that likes to wake us up in the early morning to get her walk.  Without this exercise buddy of ours, we might hit the snooze button for that precious extra time of sleep.  Instead we get up and start our day with exercise that helps us physically and mentally.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States have both conducted heart-related studies which proved that pet owners showed decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  After a heart attack, having a cat or dog reduced recovery time.

Some animals are specially trained are service animals. They can help visually impaired people to navigate their surroundings, detect seizures in individuals with epilepsy and help children on the autism spectrum and provide emotional support.  It is important to recognize that these animals have a job to do, so approaching them while they are working is not recommended.

As I said at the start, if you think you’re ready for the rewarding and demanding life of a pet owner, understand that you will have to make certain sacrifices but the potential health benefits may be worth the risk.  Take care of yourselves and each other.