Animals are so honest and true. It is our sincere fortune to have domesticated them. They provide companionship and entertainment and loyalty without bounds. They are our solace. And, as such, nurture us body and soul.

The health benefits of pets, and animals in general, are vast. Their company can “soothe the savage beast” to paraphrase Willam Congreve of Shakespearean era. Though he might have been speaking of music, it is the same “charm” that calms us and gets us through hard times. Pets are forever patient as they comfort an ailing friend.

It is well documented that pets can resolve bouts of depression, as well as lower blood pressure. A pet can help a person feel less isolated from society. A pet also remains a trusted companion, even when its owner withdraws from friends and family. This ability to relieve stress can be seen in our very physiology. People with pets are known to lower their cholesterol and have longer lives with less cardiovascular issues. For instance, studies have found that people with cats were 40 percent less likely to have a fatal heart attack.

A pet requires its owner to remain active and “in the game” so to speak. The logistics of caring for a pet are such that the “owner/friend” is likely to get a bit more exercise on a regular basis and in the process may reap the benefits of impromptu social encounters while “walking the dog.” The extra exercise undoubtedly contributes to a person’s balance and coordination as well.

Pets seem to carry a sixth sense that can detect illness and distress far sooner than their human companions. They can sense when a person is suffering, whether it be from an emotional trauma or a degenerative physical process such as cancer. They can also alert an individual who’s sugar is out of range from a diabetic incident. In addition to these direct health benefits, it has been highly publicized that they sense and alert us to environmental disasters such as earthquakes long before they hit.

Another interesting health benefit was documented by a study that recorded far fewer allergies in those individuals who were raised with animals from birth.

As you can see, pets are a blessing to our health physically and emotionally. Sure, the responsibility of having a pet can be stressful when you are afraid that one might get sick or that they may die at some time. However, as Alfred Lord Tennyson stated so eloquently; “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” It is a natural part of life to grieve with loss and these expressions of life are honorable and a true sign of honest engagement.

During this month of the sweetest, most loving day of recognition (Valentine’s Day), consider sharing it with a most loyal friend. And, if you are without, one is waiting for you with an open and most grateful heart. Adopt a pet!

Dr. Miles practices Naturopathic Medicine alongside other holistic practitioners at the Catalina Clinic of Integrative Medicine in Catalina, Arizona.

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