County Health Officer: Pets Improve our Lives

is Dr. Kenneth Bird

Our pets are a very important part of our lives. About two-thirds of U.S. households now own at least one pet, and as many as 90% of kids live with a pet at some time during their childhood. Recently, more and more evidence is mounting that our animal friends (especially our four-legged furry ones) are good for our health and wellness.

These benefits are thought to include:
  • Lowered risk of heart attack, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels

  • Increased incentive and opportunity for physical activity, which aids in losing or maintaining weight

  • Decreased risk of developing allergies

  • Decreased stress and anxiety

  • Enhanced mood

  • Improved socialization skills

  • Fostering emotional, cognitive, social, and physical development in children

  • Bonding opportunities for families

In fact, animal-assisted therapy and pet-facilitated therapy programs are becoming common in hospitals and nursing homes.

While our interactions with our pets are important to our health and well-being, they do put us at risk for expose to a variety of illnesses that we must guard against. These illnesses include salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch disease, and even rabies, among others.

Particularly vulnerable to many of these illnesses are children under the age of 5 years, pregnant women, adults over 65 years, and those with weakened immune systems.

Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones while you enjoy those special members of your household:

  • Always wash hands thoroughly after being around animals

  • Avoid adopting a new cat, handling a stray cat, and cleaning litter boxes if you are pregnant

  • Avoid pet rodents if you are pregnant

  • Supervise children under age 5 while they're interacting with animals

  • Prevent animals from using children's sandboxes as a toilet

  • Supervise children at petting zoos

  • Keep pets healthy with regular veterinary care and vaccinations

  • Protect your dogs and cats from fleas and ticks

  • Don't let pets lick people on the mouth

  • Keep your pet in a fenced yard or on a leash to reduce contact with stray/wild animals
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