This Valentine’s Day, Give Your Heart to Your Furry Companion

Valentine's Day with your Pet

Story at-a-glance

  • A study published in June 2013 in the American Heart Association journal Circulation indicates that having a pet, especially a dog, may lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Other benefits of pet ownership include being more physically active, keeping a healthy weight, receiving social and emotional support from your furry companion, and an enhanced ability to handle stress.
  • While the benefits of pet ownership are clear, it’s important not to acquire a pet just to improve your own health. Your primary motivation should be to provide a deserving animal with a long and healthy life.
  • Some tips for being an effective pet owner include researching the type of pet that best suits you rather than acting on impulse, providing ongoing training and socialization opportunities for your pet, helping your pet stay physically active and mentally stimulated, and insuring your pet isn’t left alone for long periods of time.

By Dr. Becker

A study published last June in the journal Circulation suggests having a pet, especially a canine companion, may lower your risk for heart disease.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., and high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are risk factors. Past studies show that pet ownership can lower blood pressure and also cholesterol in male dog owners – so it makes sense that it may also improve the odds of avoiding heart disease.

Other benefits of pet ownership:

  • Most people with dogs are more physically active than non-dog owners, because canine companions need walks, exercise and playtime. No measurable increases in physical activity have been reported in owners of other types of pets.
  • Generally speaking, people who walk their dogs also weigh less.
  • Pet owners receive emotional and social support from their companions. Pets provide encouragement and motivation, and they have a positive effect on stress levels.
  • In people with heart disease, owning a pet of any kind can increase survival rates -- dog ownership in particular.

While having a pet seems to provide cardioprotective benefits, I don’t recommend acquiring an animal companion simply to improve your own health. It’s important to be motivated by a desire to provide a long, healthy life for your pet, and to strive always to deepen the bond you share.

10 Tips for Being a Highly Effective Pet Owner

  1. Research what type of pet is best suited for your personality and lifestyle. Your chances of having a long-lasting, wonderful relationship with a pet increase dramatically when you give serious thought to the type of animal that best suits you, and choose accordingly.
  2. Train your dog for a lifetime of obedience. From the day you bring your puppy or adult dog home, you should begin teaching her commands such as come, sit, stay, and down. It’s also a good idea to take your dog through a refresher obedience course every few years, or when you need help with a specific behavioral problem.
  3. Apply house rules consistently. It’s very important for each member of the family to be on the same page when it comes to what your pet is and isn’t allowed to do in your home. When your pet knows what to expect from his behavior, he will be much more inclined to do more of what you approve of and less of what you don’t.
  4. Limit treats to training rewards. This is an excellent way to make sure your dog views treats as special rather than expected. It’s also helpful in keeping your pet from becoming overweight or obese.
  5. Socialize your pet. Lack of proper socialization can result in inappropriate fears, aggressive behavior, general timidity, and a host of other behavior problems that are difficult to extinguish once a dog is mature. The ideal time for socialization is between three and 12 weeks for dogs, and between two and eight weeks for cats.
  6. Help your pet be as active as nature intended. Exercise and playtime are necessary for your pet’s mental and physical well-being. If you don’t give your dog opportunities to be physically active, or if you don’t encourage exercise for your kitty and find ways to make it happen, you may well end up with a bored, destructive, overweight pet.
  7. Continually enrich your pet’s environment. Your dog or cat needs your help to stay mentally stimulated. This is important not only to discourage destructive behavior in younger pets, but also to keep your older pet’s brain sharp.
  8. Make sure your pet is in good company. Pets get lonely and depressed just like people do when they spend too much time alone. Cats are generally better on their own, but dogs and especially puppies don’t do well left to their own devices for extended periods of time.
  9. Keep a pet-friendly home. Your dog or cat is a part of the family. If she’s a kitty, she needs her own litter box in a quiet, out-of-the way corner, a scratching post or tree, her own toys, and a nice cozy spot for napping. Your dog needs his own cozy spot as well, preferably a crate, a comfy bed that’s his alone and a selection of appropriate toys.
  10. Help your pet be the best he can be. Train your pet by setting him up to succeed. There’s a reason for everything your dog or cat does, and the reason rarely if ever involves being deliberately disobedient. You should never physically punish your pet. It brings the animal pain and fear, and it gains you nothing. It’s a lose-lose situation. Please don’t do it.

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