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published in

Natural Health Magazine,

August 2010


Pat the dog...

The feel-good factor gained through stroking a pet has been put to good use in rehabilitation after illness. The charity Pets As Therapy (www.petsastherapy.org) provides ‘pat dogs' for therapeutic visits to hospitals, hospices, nursing and care homes, special needs schools and a variety of other venues. Sick patients often feel isolated and even the most withdrawn seem to open up and let their barriers down when their regular visiting pet is around.


In The Press

Animal Magic

According to research, 47 per cent of the UK population owns a pet, with cats and dogs being our preferred choice of furry friend. Not only do pets make good companions, but it also seems they can have a positive effect on our health and wellbeing. Studies have shown that owning a pet can reduce stress, ease depression and even cut our risk of developing serious health conditions. Here we take a look at some of the latest findings.


Stress-busting

Owning a cat appears to reduce the risk of death from heart attack by a third,according to research carried out by the University of Minnesota. For years medical researchers have known that psychological stress and anxiety are related to coronary problems. A good way of reducing stress is to own a cat. The reason behind this is that there seems to be an endorphin release when we stroke our pet. These natural neurotransmitters reduce blood pressure and may also   boost the immune system. The regular rhythmical stroking, encouraged by the cat's purring, induces relaxation. And   a pet’s undemanding attitude is perhaps easier than a cuddle with a partner or a conversation with a counsellor. Because animals live much more in the here and now than we do, it is easier for us to let go of our worries while playing with our pets.


Better bones

Scientists have discovered that a cat’s purr can help to build bone density. Studies have shown that when humans are exposed to sound waves with frequencies between 20Hz and 50 Hz, this can help to heal and strengthen bones, Experts from the Fauna Communications Research Institute in North Carolina found that cats purr at frequencies between 27Hz and 44Hz, leading them to conclude that exposure to a purring cat could have the same bone-healing effect.


Immune-boosing

The benefits of pet ownership don’t end there. Scientists from the University of California and Stanford University have discovered that owning a pet can reduce a person’s risk of developing non-Hodgkins lymphoma by a third. The theory is that owning a furry companion can help to boost our immune systems. The number of people affected by non-Hodgkins lymphoma in the UK has steadily risen over the years, and although the exact cause of the increase remains a mystery, one theory is that improved hygiene and sterile living conditions may be to blame. Perhaps in addition to owning a pet,we actually need some exposure to allergens and toxins in order to boost our immune systems.


Heroic helpers

Here are some other ways that animals can help humans


Assistance dogs

While most of us are familiar with Guide Dogs for the Blind, there are many other ways in which animals can help humans. Charities such as Canine Partners (www.caninepartners.org.uk) provide specially trained assistance dogs for people with disabilities, enabling them to live more independently and even, where possible, helping them in education and employment.


Seizure alert dogs

People with uncontrolled epilepsy have to live very restricted lives, but specially trained seizure alert dogs can make a huge difference to them. These dogs are trained to respond to an imminent epileptic seizure in their owner. They seem to have an ability to read very small changes in human behaviour in ways that we don’t notice. They can then warn their owner with a signal many minutes before a seizure starts, giving them time to prepare. For more information, visit www.support-dogs.org.uk


Horse healing

Riding provides a rhythmical movement that can be soothing. The figure-of-eight action our pelvis goes through emulates the movement of walking, which can be used to help disabled riders. It also helps to pump lymph around the body - usually we rely on the action of walking to pump lymph back up the legs. Horse riding stimulates peristalsis (the natural rhythm of our gut), so benefiting the health of our internal organs.   

As herd animals, horses are used to living together and caring for each other There is a growing movement of horse healing initiatives where the bond between horses and humans is explored to help with a vast range of emotional problems and issues.


Cancer-detecting

Dogs are well known for their excellent sense of smell, but research suggests that this ability could also help to detect cancerous tumours. Scientists at the Hospital Tenon, Paris, recently found that dogs were able to detect prostate cancer in men simply by sniffing samples of their urine. And

researchers at the Pine Street Foundation in California have also discovered that dogs can sniff out lung and breast cancer by smelling a patient's breath. It appears that our canine friends can smell very low concentrations of certain aromatic compounds generated by tumours. Research in this area is relatively new, but early diagnosis using dogs olfactory senses, which are 50 times better than ours, is clearly worth further investigation.


Some organisations train dogs to detect low blood glucose levels. It is not clear exactly what the dog detects - a change in behaviour or smell are just two theories - but what seems clear is that such dogs can prove a great help to diabetes sufferers.


Sufficient similarities exist between dog and human DNA to help researchers in the quest to understand genetic diseases. Progress is being made with inherited problems that both dogs and humans suffer, such as brain tumours and some forms of blindness. It is clear that g both species will benefit.


Habit-breaking

We all know that smoking is bad for our health, but it turns out that smokers are more likely to quit their habit for the sake of their pets’ health than they are for their own. A study conducted by the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit found that 28 per cent of pet owners would try to give up smoking when told about the effects of passive smoking on their pets. Furthermore, 8.7 per cent said it would prompt them to ask their partners to quit, too. Passive smoking can be as dangerous for pets as it is for other family members, as studies have linked exposure to smoke with lymphoma in cats and nasal and lung cancer in dogs.


It’s true that we are a nation of animal lovers, whether we choose to share our homes with a dog, cat, rodent or maybe something more exotic. While we appreciate our pets for their companionship we should also take a moment to consider all the other benefits they bring to our lives. If you’re interested in improving your health naturally, and you haven't already got a furry companion, perhaps you might want to consider bringing in a pet to join your family.