Sunday, May 30, 2010

Pets as antidepressents and pets as obsessions

By Jill Sweet

Dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, and even reptiles can help people overcome a mild or moderate depression.
Unlike Prozac or Zoloft, however, there are not so many nasty side effects from simply caring for a pet. Positive interaction with pets can even reduce the risk of the more serious, clinical depressions. In short, feelings of sorrow, dread, loneliness, hopelessness, and meaninglessness can be reduced when a pet enters the picture. Pets may not cure a depression, but they can make them more manageable, less frequent and shorter in duration.
There have been academic studies supporting the notion that pet ownership has mental and psychosocial benefits for humans. These benefits include exercise, affection, leadership, companionship, and routine. These five benefits are all the result of being a responsible pet owner. For example, how can I be depressed staring out the window when our cats Sully and Magic wind in and out of my ankles crying that it is time for me to feed them? How can I ignore our dog Moses when he brings me the ball, drops it at my feet, and dances around eager for our after dinner game of catch? How can I stay in bed with the covers over my head when our other dog, Vida, brings a leash to me in hopes of our morning walk? Pets do not take days off. They need our care every day!

Taking the dogs out for a walk is good for the dogs and the human. Fresh air and exercise are known as depression fighters with both physical and psychological rewards. In addition, stroking and holding a cat reduces anxiety and can even lower blood pressure. Perhaps these positive processes explain why many nursing home residents (frequently depressed about their loss of independence) respond so positively when I bring Moses around to visit.

Hopefully, as more and more hospital and nursing home administrators realize there is power in visits from pets, more programs for regular pet visitations will be established.

More than six million older people suffer from clinical depression. At the same time animal shelters are overflowing with dogs and cats that need forever homes. If we could just get the animals and the depressed folks together, the world would be a better place for humans and domesticated animals..."

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