How pets can improve your health

Why studies show pet owners are happier and thinner than non-owners

Pets can make you healthier

Whether they purr or bark, nap or chase Frisbees, pets are more than just furry companions. They can also give your health a major boost

Every night, after dinner, Linda Coffey, a veterinary technician from Grand Falls-Windsor, Nfld., walks her three Belgian shepherd dogs, Krypton, Taboo and Jason. In fact, the only thing that keeps her from walking her dogs is the temperamental Newfoundland weather, she jokes. “It’s like the dogs wear watches.”

Sticking to a regular exercise routine can be tough, confirms Lee Scott, a Toronto-based walking coach and founder of Wow Power Walking. But Scott has found that her clients get better results when they work out with a companion, furry or otherwise.

Studies have also found that dog owners report being happier, have more social interactions and have half as many colds and headaches after only one month of adopting their pets. One American study found that dogs may help reduce stress and prevent heart attacks by lowering blood pressure. Cat owners, too, are more relaxed than non-owners, and one study found that cat owners are 40 percent less likely to die of a heart attack than those without cats.

Pets can help with weight loss

With the help of her mini pinscher Mocha, Melissa Hohenkerk (who you may know from Chatelaine‘s Makeover of a Lifetime) lost two more pounds each month than she did before she adopted her pooch. “Before Mocha, I’d walk for 15 minutes,” says the 32-year-old, who works as a business analyst in Toronto. “Now I’m up to half an hour or forty-five minutes, because how can you say no to those puppy eyes?” Studies have shown that dog walkers trek 31 minutes longer than non-owners; they also lose an average of 14 pounds a year.

Choosing the right pet for you

Some pet owners find their furry friends at breeders who provide purebred animals. Another, less costly option is looking at Humane Societies across Canada, many of which run “Meet Your Match” programs. Through “Meet Your Match,” pets are screened for factors such as energy level, excitability and ease of handling, so that each potential owner ends up with a pet that meets her lifestyle. “It’s important not to be swayed by cuteness,” says Lindsay Jones of the Calgary Humane Society. “Finding a pet that suits you means you’ve found a lifelong companion.”