In the middle of the night, Mr. Boo, the family cat, jumped on his owner’s bed and meowed fiercely. Then he ran to the front door. Three times. Finally, his humans followed, only to discover the furnace was making weird noises and filling the house with deadly carbon monoxide, which humans can’t smell. Mr. Boo saved their lives. Pets are known for everyday heroics, too, by offering their love and loyalty and making for a happy home. Scientists have proven that stroking your cat or dog can lower your blood pressure and make you feel calmer. Even watching tropical fish can ease tense muscles.
A gift that keeps giving
The gifts of pet ownership doesn’t stop there. In one scientific study, pet owners exhibited greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, less lonely, more conscientious, more socially outgoing and had healthier relationship styles than nonowners. In a study of children of families with relationship problems, pets decreased depression, increased self-esteem and reduced feelings of loneliness and stress. Indeed, pets make for a happy home. But how do you make sure your pet is happy? Create a healthy home. The best way to repay your pet’s loyalty and love is to create an environment where you and your pet can thrive.
Want a happy pet?
Create a healthy home
Here are five ways to make your home pet friendly and your pet happy:
1. Get down on all fours.
Explore your house from your pet’s perspective. Look for poisoning, choking, strangulation and electrocution hazards such as cords they could chew. Secure your garbage and check that your houseplants are non-toxic. Place medications, cleaning products, pesticides and other household chemicals out of reach. Ten thousand pets die each year from antifreeze poisoning from as little as a drop. And keep the toilet lid down, please.
2. Learn to groom and disinfect.
Watch YouTube videos or ask your vet how to clip nails, brush and bathe your pet to keep them looking and feeling good. Keep in mind human soaps and shampoos can be too harsh for animals. Most pets, no matter how well trained, will make messes. Become an expert at stain removal and disinfection. Keep up on their tick and flea control.
3. Garden carefully
Plants that are beautiful and colorful to us can make your pet sick. Among them are azaleas, ferns, ivies, daffodils and, of course, in the winter, poinsettias. Plant insecticides and fertilizers are among the top 10 pet poisons.
4. Safeguard your animal’s food
Feed only high-quality food recommended by your vet (not table scraps). Limit treats. Know what human foods are dangerous to animals; grapes, onions and chocolate are toxic to dogs. Wet food, once opened, should be stored in the refrigerator. Dry food, once opened, should be kept in its original container at below 80 degrees.
5. Show extra care for small pets
Hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, birds, reptiles and fish have unique needs. They need clean bedding and water, roomy cages, vitamin supplements, chew toys, and, for birds, a place away from drafts. Birds near a sunny window can become stressed from perceived predators; in the kitchen, fumes from overheated non-stick cookware can be fatal. Your best bet is a great veterinarian who can recommend the right care approach for all your household pets.
A happy and healthy pet makes for a happy and healthy home. No wonder 7 of 10 American households have pets, and the percent is even higher in families with children and seniors.
My pet, my hero
We’ve all heard the heart-warming stories of animals rescuing families from a burning home or scaring away robbers. Pets can be super-heroes that increase home safety.
Willie, the parrot
As the baby began choking, Willie squawked, “Mama! Baby!” until the mother rushed into the room, did the Heimlich maneuver, dislodged a Lego, and saved her daughter.
Lulu, the a pig
When her owner had a heart attack, Lulu, a 150-pound Vietnamese potbellied pig, ran out the doggie door and flagged a motorist by pretending to be dead in the middle of the roadway. The ambulance arrived in time.
Tommy, the cat
When Tommy’s owner had a mini-stroke, the American shorthair jumped on his cellphone and speed-dialed 911. When paramedics arrived, Tommy was sitting next to the phone, yowling.
Kahn, the dog
This Doberman suddenly grabbed the family’s 17-month-old daughter by the diaper and lugged her across the yard. Mom was frightened the dog had gone rogue. Turns out Kahn was pulling the baby away from a poisonous king snake.
Cool technology is aiding pets
Here are just a few recent innovations for inside and outside your home:
Sensing pet doors
Now, they come with keys on the pet’s collar that automatically unlock the door for the pet but keep other critters out.
Automatic ball launchers
Save time and muscles as these contraptions keep your dog busy for hours.
Climate controlled doghouse
Fido is safe outdoors, with a heated and air-conditioned shelter regulated by a thermostat.
Fitbit for dogs
It’s called Wonderwoof, a tracking dog wearable where your dog can earn exercise badges or set up play dates with other pups.
With new pet-monitoring cameras and treat devices, you can talk to your pet and give them treats while you’re away.
Why do we love pets? It’s chemical!
In a sense, pets are a healthy addiction!
Playing with your pet releases serotonin and dopamine — powerful feel-good chemicals — into your brain, increasing happiness. Scientists directly link petting a dog or cat, or even watching cat videos, with boosts in oxytocin levels in the blood, which reduce blood pressure and increase self-healing. These are the same chemical reactions people have when falling in love!
Therapy dogs go even further. They produce chemicals that calm cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
The list of benefits goes beyond mental health. Kids who grow up with furry animals have lower rates of allergies and asthma due to a chemical immunization effect. Adults with pets have lower cholesterol levels. Dog owners exercise 79% more than nondog owners, increasing muscle cell growth. Yes, eat your vegetables. But get a pet, too!