During a medical conference lecture I gave years ago, one of the doctors in the audience asked whether I had any experience with the healing benefits of pets.
Although I couldn't quantify the degree of benefit, over the years many patients have told me how comforting their pets have been to them and how they considered their animals a vital part of recovery. Over and over again, I've heard stories about the benefits of pets for health. Some said they couldn't wait to come back to their animals following surgery or hospitalization.
Medical research also supports the health benefits of pets. Specifically, pets significantly increase longevity in people with coronary artery disease who have a heart attack. They also help to reduce their owner's blood pressure, and enhance the opportunity to meet other people. Pets also allow people to be alone without being lonely.
Over the years, my own pets for health have been dogs, and they have brought me great joy. If, like me, you're partial to dogs, here are some guidelines to help you choose this pet for health:
1. Search for a compatible animal. Different breeds have different temperaments. Some are more passive, others more active. Some dogs bark. Some don't. Some breeds shed more than others. Some breeds are more susceptible to certain disorders. Learn from books, the Internet, by talking to breeders, or from knowledgeable friends.
2. If you find an appealing pet, try the following maneuver. Turn the animal gently and quickly on its back, belly up. (If it's a puppy, you can do this in your cupped hands. If the animal is larger, do this on a table or the ground.) Animals that respond quietly when you stroke their underside tend to be submissive and more trainable. Animals that squirm excessively, bite or claw at you, and try frantically to right themselves may have behavioral problems and a hyperactive nature, and consequently may be harder to train.
3. Check out appearance. Does the animal seem hyperactive or dull and depressed? You want a balance. Also, look for a shiny coat and a lean body. A bony frame with a potbelly may indicate parasites and/or poor nutrition. Look in the animal's mouth. A healthy exterior reflects inner health. Check the ears for mites. Clear, bright eyes radiate intelligence and energy and would be a great pet for health.
A wrinkled or worried brow, snarling, or curled lips are behavioral warning signs. Pale gums may mean anemia or parasites, while red, inflamed tissue suggests gum disease. Before you make a purchase or acquisition, have a veterinarian check out the dog and make sure they are healthy.