The most important job for many dogs and cats today comes quite naturally — they are companions and friends. To provide pet owners with unbiased research-based information, researchers and educators from America’s land-grant universities have banded together to provide a new Web resource on companion animals. It’s now on eXtension.
According to the 2009-2010 survey of national pet owners conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 62 percent of U.S. households own a pet. The total number of pets owned includes 93.6 million cats and 77.5 million dogs. The new resource from Cooperative Extension covers more than dogs and cats. It also has information about birds, rabbits, rodents and even hermit crabs on animal care, reproduction and breeding, health, behavior and training, nutrition and human-animal interaction.
“There are few online sources about dogs and cats that can be considered truly unbiased. Commercial sites provide good information, but ultimately their goal is to sell while our goal is to provide timely educational information, said Lisa Karr-Lilienthal, assistant professor and companion animal specialist at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Pet owners have blogs or sites that may not have scientific information. With eXtension, you know the materials are provided by experts, many of whom have advanced degrees in companion animal nutrition, reproduction, veterinary medicine and behavior. Many of these experts are involved in the industry from showing and training to volunteering in humane societies and animal assisted therapy programs.”
The companion animal site provides help for new and inexperienced pet owners, as well as experienced owners who need an answer to a specific question. The site includes educational videos, news, upcoming events, learning lessons and articles. There are also answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). If a question cannot be found in the FAQs, eXtension’s “Ask an Expert” feature can be used for a quick response.
Living with pets has been linked to a variety of health benefits:
• Pets have positive effects on people’s mental and physical health. Children who take care of dogs and cats increase their self-esteem, nurturance and empathy. Adults and the elderly depend on four-legged companions for social support. Dogs also provide a “peace of mind” with home and personal security.
• Petting an animal causes the natural release of oxytocin and other neurochemicals that decrease blood pressure and heart rate as well as the body’s stress response.
• Exercising with a pet helps combat obesity, heart disease and depression. Pet owners have been shown to live longer after a heart attack than non-pet owners.
• Pets reduce the need for medical services for many senior citizens.
Extension researchers and educators contributed to the new resource. To find out more about the experts (and often their pets), see http://www.extension.org/pages/Companion_Animal_Experts. You can also follow them on Facebook.