Healing Power of Pets: Dr. Srinivas Iyengar on NBC’s Daytime

Most pet owners already know that animals make people feel good. But, did you know your favorite animal can make you healthier? Dr. Srinivas Iyengar, a cardiologist at the Bradenton Cardiology Center and “Daytime’s” resident doctor tells us about the healing power of pets.

Their “therapy” roles can range from just spreading a little love among patients to actively participating in physical rehabilitation. Pets provide comfort for those who respond to animals. Pets can also help to improve movement, to improve speech, and cognitive functioning.

Researchers have established that, even after a heart attack, pet owners are more likely than other coronary patients to be alive a year later. Years of research also found that petting a dog or cat can lower blood pressure in individuals with hypertension.

Anyone who has a dog can tell you they find themselves walking more. In fact, people who own dogs are more likely to be physically active and less obese than people who don’t. Pet ownership also increases the opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities and helps with socialization.

It only takes 15 to 30 minutes with a dog or cat or even watching fish swim to feel less anxious and less stressed. Your body actually goes through physical changes in that length of time that make a difference in your mood. The level of cortisol – a hormone associated with stress – is lowered. And the production of serotonin – a chemical associated with well being – is increased. Reducing stress saves your body from wear and tear.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, goats and pot-bellied pigs have also been used as pet therapy animals, but dogs are still by far the most common and popular animal therapists. Believe it or not – fish also can be therapeutic. One study found that patients experienced less anxiety prior to undergoing a medical procedure if they had been watching fish swimming in an aquarium beforehand.

Researchers aren’t sure why. But cat owners have fewer strokes than people who don’t own cats. It’s partly due to the effects owning a pet can have on a person’s circulation. But researchers speculate that cats may have a more calming effect on their owners than other animals do. It may also have something to do with the personality of a cat owner. Cats often become the focus of their owners’ interest, which diverts them from other stressful worries.

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