According to a recent University of Queensland and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions study, spending 30 minutes a day in a park setting can reduce the risk of heart disease, depression, anxiety and stress. So taking your dog for a walk, to check the wee-mails, is a great way to stay healthy and happy.
“There have been numerous studies done over the years that link a decrease in certain conditions to those of us who own pets,” said Nadia Crighton from Pet Insurance Australia.
“Most dog owners have daily, if not weekly interactions in nature and parklands,” Crighton says. “It’s another indication that owning a pet can have real, tangible health benefits.”
In Sweden, where it is mandatory to register canines, a study revealed that dog owners are at a lower risk of suffering from stroke, and heart failure. This is believed to be linked to the likelihood that dog owners are exercising daily, plus the positive physiological effects that owning a dog brings.
“The importance of having a family pet is more evident today than ever before,” Crighton says. “Recently the completion of a 10-year study in the UK proved that children are much more likely to confide in their pets than their siblings or friends.”
Keeping your pet relaxed
In terms of pets and owners, the health benefits can go both ways, with the Australian Veterinary Association observing that pet owners can often find themselves having to deal with an anxious pet.
“Pets feel anxiety in similar ways as we do. It’s a normal emotion that prepares you for a negative experience,” said Dr Jacqui Ley.
“Anxiety is what makes us alert in a dark alley or careful on the edge of a cliff. Signs of anxiety include jumpiness, fidgeting, increased heart rate, dry mouth and gastrointestinal irritability. So it makes sense that to reverse these sensations of anxiety, we need to counter it with relaxation techniques to reduce the heart rate, relax muscles and calm brain activity,” said Dr Ley.
Ways that pet reaxation can be achieved include:
Sit-stay-look exercise. This is a simple type of exercise to use. Unlike obedience, the focus is not on the tasks of sitting, staying and looking but rather on seeing a relaxation response. So it provides a framework for relaxation to occur.
Rewarding relaxed behaviour. Whispering “good boy” every time the pet is relaxing is a simple and effective technique and easy for owners to incorporate into their busy schedules.
Massage. Long, firm, slow strokes can be a great way of relaxing pets and can be done while owners watch TV or listen to some music. Massage isn’t appropriate for all pets though, especially for those who dislike being touched.