Did you know that over the past ten years, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been a partner in research to determine the physical and mental benefits of having a pet? It turns out that pets not only steal our hearts, but they can contribute to better cardiovascular health. Studies have shown that the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress and bring happiness to their owners. Regular walking or playing with pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. Pets can also help manage loneliness and depression by giving us companionship. This was helpful to many people suffering from loneliness during the pandemic. In fact, between March and July of 2020, there was a surge in pet adoptions and some shelters could not meet the demand. Since people had more free time, less socializing, and lots of alone time, many people found a pet was just what they needed to fill that void.
Cali, a tortoiseshell cat, posing to get attention.
Photo Source: Melanie Taylor
Although many of us are slowly returning to the normal stresses of daily life, a pet can still give us those same health benefits. Just think about it: on those stressful days with busy work schedules, running kids around town to their activities, etc., what’s better than being greeted at your door in the evening by a dog with a wagging tail or a cat’s purr as they snuggle with you? Of course, do not forget those unique pets, such as birds, bunnies, hedgehogs, reptiles, fish, and lots of other furry and scaly friends of ours.They all greet you in their own special way.
On a safety note, always remember pets can carry harmful germs that can make us sick even when the pet appears healthy. People with compromised immune systems and pregnant women should always take extra precautions when interacting with pets. Some tips on staying safe and healthy around your pets are to always wash your hands after handling your pets and be sure to maintain your pet’s health by regular visits to the veterinarian. Also, practice good pet hygiene by keeping pets out of the kitchen, cleaning their toys, beds, food, water/food bowls, etc., regularly sanitizing areas the pets frequent, and, of course, cleaning a cat’s litter box daily and picking up dog poop outside and disposing of it properly. When pets are added to your family, always teach your children how to properly interact with the animal(s). Small children should always be supervised when interacting with any pets.
Sonny, a tabby cat, enjoying play time with his mouse toy.
Photo Source: Melanie Taylor
On a fun note, if you are a pet owner, you already celebrate your pet(s) everyday, but there is an annual day of celebration for our pets. National Pet Day is April 11, 2021. This is an extra special day to give your pet extra snuggles and maybe even an extra treat. Be sure to use this day to remember why your pet is so special to you and your family. Reminisce about your pet memories while giving him/her extra attention and maybe even share your special memories on social media. People love seeing pictures of pets. It makes everyone’s day brighter. Here are the top four ways people report making National Pet Day special for their pet, 1) I give my pet a special treat, 2) I tell my pet “I love you”, 3) I buy or make a special gift for my pet, and 4) I let my pet sleep in my bed with me. (https://nationaltoday.com/national-pet-day/)
So, be sure to remember your pet this National Pet Day in April.
To see the importance of pets in our lives and families be sure to check out the interesting insights below from surveys about people and their pets.
Interesting Insights about People and their Pets:
- 95% of pet owners say their pets are part of the family.
- 94% of families with an autistic child benefited from having a pet.
- 67% of households in the United States have a pet. Americans spend approximately $75 billion a year on pet care and products.
- 44% of people reported they would rather cuddle with their pet than their partner.
- 22% of Americans are attracted to people who treat their pet like a family member.
- 11% of Americans hang out with their pets (ex. watch TV, read books, etc.).
- 10% of owners are allergic to their pets.
- 10% of Americans consider their pet to be their best friend.
- 10% of Americans talk to their pet in a special voice.
- 10% of Americans carry on conversations with their pet.
As April approaches and spring weather arrives, be sure to get outside with your pets and enjoy some stress relief, feel the sunshine on your face, smell the fresh blooms, and take in the beauty of nature around you. It will provide positive health benefits for you and your pet as you take a long, relaxing walk together. If your pet is an indoor only pet, be sure to sit in the floor and play with your pet like you did when they were kittens, etc. They will love the extra time and closeness with you. No matter what type of pet you have, be sure to let them bring you happiness and relaxation, and you, in turn, can help them live their best pet lives possible.
Center for Disease and Prevention (CDC):
The Washington Post:
Melanie Taylor, Family & Consumer Sciences, Extension Agent III, Bay County
Melanie Taylor grew up in Virginia. After getting married in January 2009 and wanting to support her husband’s career in Panama City, she officially moved to Bay County. Melanie received her bachelor’s degree from Radford University. She then furthered her education with a M.S.Ed from Virginia Tech in 2004 while working full time for Virginia Cooperative Extension. She followed in her Dad’s footsteps by becoming a 4-H youth development Extension agent and worked with Virginia Extension for over eight years. Upon moving to Bay County, she worked in Gulf County as the 4-H and Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent for 10 years. She transferred to UF/IFAS Extension Bay County in December 2019. Her FCS focus areas are health and wellness, prevention of chronic diseases, and strengthening families within our communities.
Melanie at the 4-H booth at the Sunbelt Expo
Melanie is very excited to now work within the community in which she lives and to assist with helping Bay County residents recover from Hurricane Michael and Covid-19 damages. Be sure to contact Melanie if you have any needs in the area of family and consumer sciences. She is ready and willing to answer questions and design programs virtually for now and face-to-face in the future.
Like so many in Bay County, Melanie’s home in the Cove was severely damaged by Hurricane Michael, but she is excited to announce they finally moved back into their repaired home on September 26. She and her family could not be happier (her family includes husband Bryan and their two cats, Sonny and Cali). Outside of work, Melanie is active in the Junior League of Panama City. It is very likely you will see her out and about with her husband at local events.
Melanie Taylor, Family & Consumer Sciences, Bay County
2020 has been a year of many changes and challenges due to the Coronavirus pandemic, which unfortunately will continue into our holiday season. To protect our friends, family and community members we must continue following the science-based guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your state and local guidelines to prevent exposure and the spread of the virus.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 epidemic numbers are rising again. Gatherings of any kind, both small and large, are contributing to the rise in positive cases. We can all make choices based on the scientific research that can protect us and others by making small changes in our 2020 holiday celebrations. Limiting the risk and being diligent in our actions should be our main goal until a vaccine is approved and dispersed throughout the country.
Photo Source: UF/IFAS
Some unique and easy ways to celebrate the holidays this year are to “gather virtually” with those not in your immediate household or to gather in-person only with members of your own household. These two types of gatherings offer the lowest risk for spreading the virus. Your household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your home. People who do not currently live in your home, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households. In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including those college students returning home, offer varying levels of risk. The level of risk is difficult to determine because people may have been exposed and/or are a carrier and may not be aware of it.
Here are some specific things to consider when deciding how to celebrate your holidays.
- Number of cases in your community – Be sure to know the number of positive Covid cases in your community. If the numbers are rising or are already high you should take precautions based on the data. You can check your specific county or city Covid rates at your local health departments website.
- Exposure during travel – Airports, bus stations, train stations, public transport, gas stations, rest stops and hotels are all places travelers can be exposed to the virus in the air and on surfaces. Be aware if you will be traveling or if you have guests traveling to your home.
- Location of your gathering – Indoor gatherings, especially those with poor ventilation, expose your family to more risk than outdoor gatherings.
- How long will your gathering last? – Time is an important factor to consider. The longer the gathering lasts the more risk those attendees will have of being exposed. Being within 6 feet of someone who has Covid for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick and requires a 14-day quarantine.
- Number and crowding of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people bring more risk than gatherings with fewer people. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of attendees from different households to stay 6 feet (2 arm lengths) apart, wear masks, wash hands and follow state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules and regulations.
- Behaviors of attendees before the gathering – People who do not consistently follow social distancing, wearing masks, regular handwashing and other prevention behaviors cause more risk than those who consistently practice the recommended safety measures.
- Behaviors of attendees during the gathering – Gatherings with more safety measures in place, such as mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing, offer less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented. Use of alcohol or drugs may alter judgment and may make it more difficult to practice Covid safety measures.
Be sure your technology is charged and ready for your virtual holiday visit. Photo Source: Kendra Zamojski
Other high-risk holiday related activities to avoid to help prevent the spread of the virus:
- Going shopping in crowded stores.
- Participating or being a spectator at a crowded parade, race or other holiday celebration.
- Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household.
- Using alcohol or drugs that may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice Covid safety measures.
Things to consider before your gatherings:
To make the holiday less stressful be sure to practice a virtual session before the virtual holiday gathering. Make sure everyone involved knows how to connect to the virtual holiday celebration so the gathering will go more smoothly and hopefully experience less technical problems on that day.
We all had to adapt to many unexpected changes this year and the holidays will be no different. Just remember being diligent now will protect family and friends and help control the spread of the virus in our communities. Be sure to enjoy your unique holiday season this year, but here’s hoping for a less challenging 2021.
Stay safe! Enjoy your family and friends from a safe distance! Happy Holidays!
As I write this article it is the first day of Fall. Many people are enjoying the cooler temperatures, school is in full swing, a few trees are changing colors and everyone is adjusting to shorter days. As Fall begins and we move forward through this unusual and stressful year, many of us need to focus on healthier lifestyles and eating well to be our best self.
Many of us know that fresh fruits and vegetables should be a staple in our daily diets. Apples ripen and are ready for harvest in September or October, making October National Apple Month. So be sure to eat a crisp apple on a nice Fall day. They are refreshing, and you can find ones that are sweet or tart for anyone’s taste buds. They are also a low-calorie food. One medium apple only has about 80 calories. Apples are also a great source of fiber, especially if you eat the peel, and a good source of vitamin C and potassium.
Photo Source: UF/IFAS
Selecting Apples: When selecting apples, they should be smooth skinned, crisp, juicy and a nice color for the variety. Handle apples gently to avoid bruising. Over 2,500 varieties of apples are grown in the United States, and around 100 varieties are grown commercially. Commercially grown apples will be what you see sold in most grocery stores.
Storing Apples: Apples will remain crisp and juicier longer if refrigerated. Store refrigerated apples in plastic bags with small air holes to maintain a high moisture level and delay withering. When storing apples in the refrigerator, they will last 6-8 weeks. Apples stored at room temperature typically last less than a week and lose their crispiness.
Preparing Apples: Simply rinse, refrigerate and enjoy. The best way to prepare your apples is to rinse them under cool tap water and dry with a paper towel. You may use a vegetable brush if you feel it needs more cleaning. Know that when apples arrive to the packing facility, they are washed to remove any dirt from the orchard, but you still need to rinse them. Apples can be cooked, canned, dried and frozen. Be sure to check out some healthy apple recipes from Michigan Apples, and The American Heart Association and preservation recipes from The University of Georgia.
Be sure to enjoy some delicious apples this October!
American Heart Association https://www.heart.org
Michigan Applies https://www.michiganapples.com
So Easy to Preserve https://nchfp.uga.edu/
Food and Fitness from Harvest to Health http://missourifamilies.org/
Speak openly with your doctor about any concerns you may have regarding your health. (Photo source: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)
We are in the depths of flu season and now the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Although we need to proceed with caution, we also want to avoid causing a panic. Both viruses are very concerning, but with good hand washing skills and a few other daily steps you can do your best to prevent you and your family from becoming sick.
Hand washing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick. You can help yourself and your loved ones stay healthy by washing your hands often, especially during these key times when you are likely to get and spread germs:
- Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
Follow these Five Steps Every Time You Wash Your Hands:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
Use Hand Sanitizer When You Can’t Use Soap and Water
You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available. Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You can tell if the sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by looking at the product label.
- Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations.
- Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs.
- Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
- Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals.
How to Properly Use Hand Sanitizer:
- Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
- Rub your hands together.
- Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.
Caution! Swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning if more than a couple of mouthfuls are swallowed. Keep it out of reach of young children and supervise their use.
Conclusion – Other Basic Tips to Prevent Spread of Illness:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Be sure to utilize credible sources to find your information. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Florida Department of Health are excellent resources.
CDC page Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/index.html
CDC frequently asked questions (FAQs) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf
Florida Department of Health frequently asked questions (FAQ) http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19/faq.html
If you have further questions or concerns, please contact your local Department of Health for assistance.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention – https://www.cdc.gov/
Florida Department of Health – http://www.floridahealth.gov/