I grew up always having pets: Cats, dogs, horses, iguanas and other lizards, even a tarantula that survived over 12 years. My kids, on the other hand, haven’t had the luxury of living in a menagerie of cuddly critters. My two youngest are extremely allergic to nearly anything with fur. Too much time with the wrong animal and they can wind up in the hospital—it’s happened.
Fortunately, we’ve found an animal that no one is allergic to and we all love—gerbils! I was opposed to getting them in the beginning. Now, I’m their #1 fan. There’s good science to back up the benefits of having pets around.
Having Pets can help the Elderly
We have a neighbor who recently turned 92. She still walks her Yorkshire terrier several times a day. Up and down those concrete steps she goes, all for the love of that yappy little pooch. We have long hypothesized that Trixie, the dog, is one of the reasons she stays so healthy and agile.
In fact, studies show that people with pets have lower blood pressure, and lower risk of heart disease. It may be due to the exercise they get walking and playing with their pets. They also reduce stress—and it doesn’t matter if they are furry or if they are a hard-shelled turtle. They just need to be a living animal.
One study even used crickets. Elderly patients were divided into 2 groups, one of which was given crickets to care for over an 8 week period. That group had lower levels of depression than the control group. The act of caring for another living creature is thought to be the reason.
Having Pets around can help Children
One peer-reviewed study looked at children with autism spectrum disorder in the classroom with non-ASD children. In some of the classrooms, children were given toys and in others, they were given guinea pigs to play with.
The results suggested that the presence of an animal can significantly increase positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder, compared with children.
“Participants with ASD demonstrated more social approach behaviors (including talking, looking at faces, and making tactile contact) and received more social approaches from their peers in the presence of animals compared to toys. They also displayed more prosocial behaviors and positive affect (i.e., smiling and laughing) as well as less self-focused behaviors and negative affect (i.e., frowning, crying, and whining) in the presence of animals compared to toys.”
Having pets has improved our lives
Our family derives real benefits to having pets. Our gerbils are a constant sense of joy. Just seeing them brightens my day. Because they are small and contained, they are a good choice for our family. We never need to worry about walking them or taking them to the vet (although one time we did take one to the vet). We can even bring them along on vacations.
Once again I will be doing double duty in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I will be sharing ways to avoid burnout, here at Facing Cancer with Grace. At Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways of thinking creatively, using Brainsparker’s Kickstart Course of A to Z prompts. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites.
Do you have any pets? Tell us about them.
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In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
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I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker
 Shoshana Shiloh, Gal Sorek† & Joseph Terkel (2003) REDUCTION OF STATE-ANXIETY BY PETTING ANIMALS IN A CONTROLLED LABORATORY EXPERIMENT, Anxiety, Stress & Coping, 16:4, 387-395, DOI: 10.1080/1061580031000091582
 Ko, H J, et al. “Effect of Pet Insects on the Psychological Health of Community-Dwelling Elderly People: A Single-Blinded, Randomized, Controlled Trial.” Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Sept. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26383099.
 O’Haire, Marguerite E., et al. “Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 27 Feb. 2013, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0057010.