What benefits can pets bring to people with diabetes?
It's no wonder we often call pets our best friends. They are always there to greet us with a warm nuzzle or wagging tail. They never judge us. We can play with them. They are fun to take care of. We form real, strong bonds with them.
Did you know pets can also be beneficial for health? Let's take a look at some health benefits of pet ownership, to mark World Animal Day, October 4, 20191.
1. Pets can improve fitness
Taking care of pets requires some type of physical activity. Whether you are changing out a litter box, chasing around a roaming hamster ball or taking the dog on walks, you reap the benefits too.
A study by The Pet Report found 66% of dog and horse owners said having their pet made them more active, and 36% said having a pet helped them lose weight2.
Pet ownership may help lower both cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In fact, a survey by the Australian National Heart Foundation found people who owned pets tend to have lower levels of both3. You can burn calories, stay fit and improve your health just by having fun with your pet.
2. Pets decrease stress
If you have ever had a hard day at work and came home to an eager lick on the face, you know how quickly your mood can improve after you see a furry friend. News in Health reports no matter what type of pet you have, interacting with animals can decrease levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol4. Since stress can raise blood glucose levels, keeping stress in check is important for people with diabetes5.
Spending time with your pet can also lower blood pressure6. Pets are great companions, just like a trusted friend. A pet can decrease feelings of loneliness and increase feelings of social support. Pets have the power to improve your attitude. They can be a source of empathy, comfort and support. That's great to have when you're managing diabetes.
3. Pets make us laugh
Hamsters stuffing food into their cheeks, fish being mesmerized by the items in their tanks and rabbits hopping around can all induce a case of the giggles. Pets constantly surprise us. They are often adorable and gut-busting to watch.
Laughter is good for the soul, and it could also be good for blood glucose levels. One Diabetes Care study examined how laughter affected blood glucose levels for people with diabetes7. It found laughter and positive emotions can suppress blood glucose level elevation. Conversely, negative emotions like fear, sadness and anxiety are factors that can elevate blood glucose levels. Having fun with your pet may help you regulate your levels.
4. Some pets can save lives
Some pets are trained to help people manage their diabetes. Diabetes Assistance Dogs learn how to monitor scents identifying when their owner's blood sugar levels are low or rapidly dropping8. They will give their owner a cue, by pawing or nudging them to check their levels. Dogs can also be trained to get juice, glucose tabs, an emergency phone or help from someone else in the house. Diabetes Assistance Dogs can save a life.
5. Pets give us hope
It doesn't matter what is going on around a pet. They don't worry about the future or their past. They just live in the moment.
That is a great lesson for anyone to adopt. Managing diabetes comes with challenges. When you focus on what you can control in the present moment, it makes everything in life easier to tackle, including diabetes. Having the unconditional love of a pet gives us something to look forward to and enjoy whenever we are around them.
Can't have a pet? Interact with animals in other ways
You may not be able to own a pet for various reasons – allergies, young kids, etc. But you can still get the feel-good benefits of interacting with animals. Here are some ideas.
- Volunteer. Animal shelters are always in need of volunteers to socialize with the animals in their care. You can volunteer by taking dogs out for walks or playing with cats in a shelter.
- Visit an animal sanctuary. If you're allergic to animals when you come into close contact with them, head to an animal sanctuary, aquarium or zoo. Simply being in the presence of animals and getting to observe their quirky actions can enhance mood and relax you. Many places like these offer memberships that allow you to go as often as you want.
- Adopt a dog virtually. Some animal homes offer virtual adoption programs that allow you to help provide an animal with a loving home and get a photo of the animal that you saved. This can be a way to bond with your family and make a difference in the life of an animal. Check with your local animal rescue center.
Even petting a dog you see out on a walk or watching funny animal videos online can be enough to lift a mood or make you live more in the present moment. Animals aren't just beings to co-exist with. They can make a meaningful impact on our lives.
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The views expressed in the Accu-Chek blog are not necessarily those of Roche Diabetes Care Limited or our publishers. The content is provided for general information only. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely – you must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content. Although we make reasonable efforts to ensure that the content is up to date, we make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content is accurate, complete or up-to-date.
- Pet ownership and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Anderson WP, Reid CM, Jennings GL.. Med J Aust. 1992 Sep 7;157(5):298-301. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?cmd=search&doptcmdl=Abstract&term=0025-729X%20AND%201992%5BPublication%20Date%5D%20AND%20157%5BVolume%5D%20AND%20298%5BPage%20Number%5D