Those of us who own pets know they make us happy and reduce our feelings of loneliness. Beyond the emotional lift, our pets provide real, measurable health benefits. According to the Centers for Disease Control, owning pets can help lower blood pressure, relieve stress and anxiety, and even decrease cholesterol levels. Here are just a few ways in which pets help us heal.
People suffering from a life-threatening illness, and/or experiencing chronic pain such as arthritis and migraines, have been shown to require less pain medication with pets than without. Cats in particular demonstrate the most calming effect, more than any other animal. Having pets decreases the feelings of depression and anxiety caused by pain, and simply petting an animal will increase dopamine levels that provide a feeling of happiness. This will also decrease cortisol levels, which contribute to reducing stress, anxiety, and depression.
Decreased blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglycerides are just a few of the myriad ways pets provide health benefits. Both the National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control have shared studies showing that pets help minimize our risk for having a heart attack; for those who have already had a heart attack, research indicates that patients with pets have better recovery rates, as these benefits are connected with pets’ tendency to help reduce overall stress levels.
Develop Stronger Immune System
This is particularly true with children. The National Institute of Health reported in 2017 the results of an Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma study which revealed exposure to certain bacteria early in life may protect children from a broad variety of indoor allergens and bacteria, and ultimately reduce the risk of developing asthma. Having a pet in your home, especially if you have young children, could actually protect them from significant allergies later in life.
Increase Social Opportunities
When we leave the house with our pets, opportunities to meet new people expand. People who may have nothing in common have an instant ice-breaker because of their pets. Like children, pets are a common denominator that join us and give us permission to gin up a conversation with, well, anyone. Some ideal locations for meeting new people and expanding our social skills include dog parks, training classes, outdoor cafes, and online forums for pet owners.
Increase Opportunities for Exercise
Having a pet often means you will need to spend time outdoors. This is particularly true with dogs, but those who have outdoor cats may also spend time playing with in the fresh air. Many cat owners walk their cats on a leash. Some perks to owning a pup include daily exercise, such as hiking, dog training, jogging or running, biking, and even dog yoga―known as doga―for dogs.
Pets provide us with unconditional love and instill us with a sense of purpose. Many hospitals, nursing homes, and addiction treatment centers use pets (everything from cats and dogs, to rabbits and pot belly pigs) to counteract patients’ feelings of loneliness, and to provide them with joy and happiness. Therapy dogs are also used to help the elderly and those with physical impairments to perform everyday tasks so that they can continue to live in their own homes.