If you’re a pet owner, you know that pets make you happy. But as a Veteran, did you know that owning a pet can be especially helpful? Having a companion animal is highly beneficial for veterans with PTSD, and lowers our blood pressure and increases our happy hormones, which can make our lives longer and better.
If you’re on the fence about getting an animal, AskNod.org shares some more information on how our pets can make us healthy.
Research has shown that paying attention to animals gives us a feeling of calm and can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate and stress hormone levels. Recent studies show that our brains release dopamine and serotonin, nerve transmitters associated with calmness and happiness, when we’re interacting with animals. Not only do our moods improve more quickly than if we took drugs for stress, but also the effects last long after the animal has left our presence. Petting animals in a rhythmic manner releases oxytocin, the stress relief hormone, and comforts both you and the animal.
More importantly, pets make us focus on the present moment and keep us from feeling isolated. They don’t worry about the future or fret over the past, and they demand that we pay attention to them. When we are stressed about work, life or whatever, our animal companions can help us refocus on what is in front of us. They make us laugh, but they demand that we play with them RIGHT NOW. That has a way of making other concerns fall away if only we let them. As the Serenity Prayer says, let go of what you cannot control… (and then go play with your dog).
Of course, there are ways to get health benefits without actually owning a pet. If you can’t have animals in your home or cannot afford to care for one, you can help both them and you by volunteering at a pet shelter or becoming a dog walker. You will be getting good exercise and socialization, but you’ll also be helping the dogs you walk to learn social skills and be more likely to get adopted. That’s a win-win if ever there was one!
Animals can also help with our mental health. Dogs have been trained to provide focus for autistic patients, uplift people with depression, and be calming presences for those battling PTSD and anxiety. Therapy animals are pets who have been trained to visit people in need of comfort, such as in a hospital or nursing home (unlike service dogs which are trained to provide assistance to a person with a particular disability, like a seeing eye guide dog, and are not considered pets).
Emotional Support Animals are pets that provide comfort but are not necessarily trained to do so, but they are considered companion animals to those in need of emotional assistance so they are allowed in certain housing and transportation venues where pets are not. Some doctors use animal assisted therapy, so you might be able to benefit from it even if you cannot afford to get a specially trained dog of your own.
What You Need to Keep a Pet
When you’re ready to take the leap into pet ownership, there are certain supplies you’ll need to gather. Food, food and water dishes, toys, a collar, a leash or harness, and a comfortable bed. Depending on the level of activity you anticipate with your pet, a waterproof bed is a solid choice since the cover can repel moisture.
Your living environment will determine which size dog you get, but remember that a smaller dog will do better in an apartment than a larger dog. If you have a yard that’s unfenced, this is another consideration to keep in mind. To ensure your dog has room to roam, you need a fenced area that will keep them secure. You can remedy this situation by working with a local fencing company. They can help you choose the right materials to fit your budget, and can do a faster job than if you were to DIY.
Please know that adopting an animal is a commitment that should not be taken lightly. Your dog will depend on you for companionship. If you’re lonely or depressed to the point that you cannot care for another, please do not take in an animal that you might have to give away later. While animals can help you to feel better, you should not get one unless you can care for it as well as yourself. You want to create a good home for your pet so that you both benefit from being together. That’s paws-itively the best situation you can have.