| Tue, Dec 31, 2013 @ 09:00 AM

Pet Power

Posted by Medicare Made Clear

therapy petsWe must love our pets. A cool 68% of American households own at least one, according to a 2013 survey by the American Pet Products Association.

And what’s not to love? Sure, a pet may chew, dig or scratch up things you would rather they didn’t. But when they look up at you with trust and innocence in their eyes, it’s hard to hold a grudge.

Pets provide entertainment, companionship, comfort and just plain fun for many people. They can also provide health benefits. Among these are:

  • Better heart health. Pet owners may have lower blood pressure, cholesterol and stress levels, which lower the risk of heart disease. People with pets also are more likely to survive a heart attack. (American Journal of Cardiology, 1995)
  • Good exercise. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend walking with a pet as part of a healthy lifestyle. As a bonus, walking a pet may help smooth the way to meeting neighbors and other pet owners.
  • Less loneliness and depression. Caring for a pet may help some people feel needed. And pet owners laugh more often than people without pets. (Society & Animals, 2006)

Now health care organizations are harnessing the power of pets to help ease the way for people dealing with health problems.

Animal Therapy

If you are a loving pet owner, you know well the joy of having an animal to care for, play with and share affection with. Therapy animals and their owners or handlers take this natural bond to a new level.

Therapy animals are specially trained animals whose sole purpose is to provide affection and comfort to patients. Dogs and cats are the most common types of therapy animals, but rabbits, guinea pigs, horses and even pot-bellied pigs have been trained to provide the service.

Many hospitals, clinics and nursing homes have embraced therapy animal programs. They allow animals and their handlers to visit and help soothe and cheer up patients and residents. Animal therapy is a way to help promote socialization, enhance trust and improve overall wellbeing. It may be used alone or with other therapies aimed at helping calm the stress response.

The effects of animal therapy can be significant. For example, patients in a pain clinic reported improvements in pain, mood and other measures of distress when visited by therapy dogs while waiting for appointments. (Pain Medicine, 2012) Also, therapy animals have been shown to decrease anxiety and increase socialization in people with Alzheimer’s disease. (Love, Miracles and Animal Healing. Schoen, 1996; Animals, Health, and Quality of Life. Abstract, 1995)

Learn More

Scientists believe that humans first developed close relationships with animals tens of thousands of years ago. We may never know exactly why. But maybe our ancient ancestors also found that having a furry friend around could help make life healthier and happier.

You can learn about therapy animal services and training at PetPartners.org.

For more information, explore MedicareMadeClear.com or contact the Medicare helpline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227), TTY 1-877-486-2048.


PetPartners.org: Get more information about animal therapy.

Medicare.gov: The official U.S. government website for Medicare.

Medicare & You: Learn about Original Medicare coverage and costs in this annual publication.

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