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By Mark DaCosta- Amidst the hustle and challenges of life in Guyana, where economic, political, and social issues often take center stage, there exists a hidden source of joy and well-being — the companionship of a pet. Beyond the immediate joys of having an animal friend, there is a wealth of proven physical and mental health benefits that can serve as a soothing balm in our stressful lives.
In the midst of our daily challenges, pet ownership has a plethora of physical benefits that they bring into our difficult lives. Dr. Beth Frates, director of lifestyle medicine and wellness at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, emphasises that pets provide a sense of belonging, connection, and contentment — precious sentiments that we all want for in our daily lives. The simple act of arriving home to the excitement of a dog or the soothing purring of a cat can trigger the release of oxytocin, the so-called love hormone.
Crucially, a scientific statement by the American Heart Association nearly a decade ago hinted at a remarkable link between pet ownership, especially dogs, and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Recent research in Current Hypertension Reports reiterates this message, suggesting that having a pet may lower the risk of developing high blood pressure and improve blood pressure control in those already diagnosed. The underlying mechanism revolves around pets dampening the body’s stress response, showcasing the powerful impact these companions can have on our cardiovascular health.
However, the benefits extend beyond the physical realm. The mental health advantages that pets bring into our lives underscore their ability to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. The simple act of stroking a pet’s soft coat can swiftly calm and soothe, triggering the release of serotonin and dopamine in the brain — neurotransmitters known for their calming and relaxing effects.
In a country like ours, where daily life is often fraught with challenges, the mental health benefits of pet ownership can be a beacon of solace. Our animal friends provide not just companionship but also a source of comfort that can alleviate the strains of modern life. They become confidants, offering a listening ear for our troubles and a warm presence in moments of solitude.
Children, too, stand to gain significantly from the presence of pets in their lives. Scientific evidence suggests that a good relationship with a pet can foster cognitive stimulation, improved behaviour, heightened understanding of others, increased immunity, and lower anxiety levels in children. This rings particularly true in our community-centric society, where the bonds formed with pets can contribute to a child’s holistic development.
However, as we embark on this journey of pet companionship, it is prudent to acknowledge the cautions and risks that come with it. Experts emphasise the need for caution, especially for young children who may not fully understand the boundaries of interacting with pets. The potential for animal bites poses a concern, and parents must educate their children on recognising signs of stress in their pets to prevent harm.
Additionally, there are health risks associated with pet ownership, particularly for kids, pregnant women, and individuals with weakened immune systems. Basic precautions, such as thorough hand washing after contact with animals, maintaining the pet’s cleanliness and health, and avoiding specific activities during pregnancy, are essential to mitigate these risks. While these cautions must be noted, it is crucial to underscore that the benefits of pet ownership far outweigh risks.
In a society where stress and challenges are part of our daily narrative, the joy and unconditional love offered by our pets become invaluable. In the context of our country, where community bonds are generally strong, the companionship of a pet transcends a mere luxury — it becomes a source of resilience, mental well-being, and joy.
The impressive health benefits of having a pet – whether it’s a dog, cat, rabbit, mouse, or parrot – in our lives cannot be overstated. These faithful companions bring not only physical advantages but also contribute significantly to our mental and emotional well-being. As we navigate the many challenges of our lives in this beautiful but stressful nation of ours, let us embrace the soothing presence of our animal friends, recognising them not just as pets but as cherished members of our families, enriching our lives in ways beyond measure.