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7:32 PM Tue, Sept. 25th

Studies show pet owners are healthier, happier

The unconditional love of a pet can do wonders for emotional and physical health. Studies show pet owners are less likely to experience depression, are better able to cope with stress and may experience blood-pressure-lowering benefits.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, research has shown that Fido or Fluffy can:

Relieve stress. Playing with a puppy or cuddling a cat can help you unwind after a long day or comfort you if you're sad or lonely.

Help your heart. In a comparison study examining the heart rate and blood pressure of pet owners and their non-pet counterparts, people with pets had lower heart rates and blood pressure levels. The pet owners also had less increase in their heart rate and blood pressure when exposed to stress, and their blood pressure dropped faster following a stressful event.

Protect your heart after a heart attack. Scientists discovered that dog owners were more likely to be alive one year following a heart attack than were those who didn't own dogs.

Help keep you fit. Walking the dog is good exercise for you, too.

Is a pet paw-fect for you? Pets require responsibility. If you're thinking about getting a pet, consider the following:

• Time involved. Cats, dogs and other animals need food, water, exercise and companionship daily. Consider your work and travel schedules to see if you can accommodate a pet.

• Financial support. Food, licenses, toys, grooming and veterinary care are all costs to keep in mind. And remember that pets can live for 10 to 15 years or more.

• Living space. A large dog might not be happy in a tiny house. You'll need adequate space to accommodate your pet's size and activity level. Some apartments or townhomes may have restrictions on size and number of pets.

• Physical conditions/abilities. Pet allergies or other physical limitations might interfere with your ability to take care of a pet.

Once you get a pet, visit a veterinarian as soon as possible for a complete check-up. This will ensure that your pet is healthy and up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations. Then, enjoy getting to know your new pet. You can help keep each other happy and healthy.

Safety tips for pregnant women: Pregnant women who keep cats as pets should be mindful of toxoplasmosis, an infection caused by a parasite that is carried by cats and passed in their stool. Typically, people are more likely to get toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked meat or gardening than from contact with pet cats. These simple tips can reduce the risk of getting toxoplasmosis from a cat.

• If you have a cat, someone who is not pregnant should change the litter box every day. If this is not possible, wear gloves and wash hands with soap and running water after changing the litter.

• Keep cats indoors.

• Do not adopt or handle stray cats.

• Feed cats only commercial cat food - never undercooked or raw meat.