Can you tell what your dog is thinking? Chances are, you have a good idea much of the time. And likewise, your dog pays close attention to your expressions and behaviors to decipher your mood. What are the health implications of our relationships with animals?
The capacity for empathy is not limited to humans. It is, however, critical to our ability to relate to other beings. During Hurricane Katrina, many people had to evacuate without their pets. This caused additional trauma at a time that was already stressful.
You probably realize that you feel better when your cat is purring in your lap or your dog is wagging its tail in greeting. But did you know that spending time with your companion can lower your heart rate and blood pressure? Learn how empathetic kind relationships with animals, from cows, pigs and horses to cats, dogs and even mice, are vital to our well-being. They teach us how to practice empathy with other humans as well.
Many veterans who return from combat zones with PTSD have found comfort and solace through service dogs. Their relationships with animals help them cope with the challenges of returning to civilian life.
We also learn how a mobster rescued an abused street dog. That relationship turned his life around. Has your life been transformed by your relationships with animals?
Aysha Akhtar, MD, MPH, is double board-certified in both neurology and preventive medicine, as well as a master's in public health.
She is the Deputy Director of the Army's Traumatic Brain Injury Program. Previously she worked for the Office of Counterterrorism and Emerging Threats of the FDA. She is a Lieutenant Commander in the US Public Health Service, in which she deploys to assist with national public health emergencies.
Dr.Akhtar is a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics and is a consultant editor for The Journal of Animal Ethics.
Dr. Akhtar is the author of Animals and Public Health, and her latest book is Our Symphony with Animals, On Health, Empathy and our Shared Destinies. Her website is AyshaAkhtar.com.