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Better Living Through Pets

The studies are in: having a pet is good for you when you have chronic kidney disease (CKD). Scientists aren’t exactly sure how pets make us healthier, but they can’t argue with the results. Several studies have linked better physical health to having a pet. A study at Cambridge University found that owning a pet could improve your health in as little as one month! Pet owners reported fewer minor health problems like headaches, colds and hay fever. In another study involving Medicare patients, seniors who owned dogs actually visited their doctors less than those patients who did not have canine companionship.

Having a pet can help lower blood pressure. Other studies have shown that pet owners have lower cholesterol levels, which may make them less prone to heart attacks and stroke.

We all know how important exercise is for our health. But how many of us have said we don’t have the time to work out? Dog owners automatically set aside time when they take “Fido” out for a walk. Leisurely strolls and long walks may not seem like exercise, but any activity that gets you up and moving is great for your health.

The mental benefits of owning a pet are just as important for people with kidney disease. Petting an animal helps us relax, thus lowering our blood pressure. It’s not just our furry friends that make us feel better. Even watching feathered or finned creatures like birds and fish can reduce our feelings of stress. That’s why doctors and dentists often have aquariums in their waiting rooms.

Pets can also help us recover from serious illness by giving us psychological support. How? Having a companion animal makes us feel less lonely and isolated. Many owners talk to their pets. Pets can help decrease feelings of depression and worry, both of which can slow your recovery time. They can make you feel better so you can mend faster.

Is a pet right for me?

If you’re interested in getting a pet, here are some things to think about:

  • Your lifestyle: do you work or spend a lot of time away from home? Dogs tend to need more attention (in terms of exercise and other outdoor activities) than cats, birds or fish.
  • Your activity level: how active are you? Finding an animal suited to your activity level will make it easier for you and your pet.
  • Housing: do you have room to house a pet? Larger animals may feel cramped in a small space and may need access to a yard, whereas smaller animals may be happy indoors.
  • Health care: Animals may help us stay healthier, but that doesn’t mean they never get sick. Being a responsible pet owner means looking out for your animal friend’s well-being.

Can I enjoy pet benefits without making a full commitment?

You may be in a situation that doesn’t allows you to adopt an animal, such as living in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets, or having a schedule that keeps you away from home for long hours, but you can still enjoy the company of an animal. Volunteering at a local shelter, or providing temporary foster care until an animal is placed in a permanent home, are great ways to enjoy a furry friend without making a long-term commitment. Check your phone book or go online to find shelters and other animal organizations in your area.

Animals can bring great joy to our lives as well as unexpected health benefits. The rewards of having a pet are great, not only to you the pet owner, but also to the animal itself. Of course, you’ll still need to visit your doctor, follow the advice of your kidney healthcare team, take all of your prescribed medications and get your dialysis treatments as scheduled, but a pet might be a wonderful addition to your life.