The Health Benefits of Having a Pet
Pets and their key to wellness
Pets help keep you happier, healthier and more social.
“An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language.”
Do you ever find yourself staring at your pet while feeling absolute bliss and full of unconditional love? There is science behind this joyous interaction and it just may make you healthier.
About 85 million families, or 67 percent of U.S. households, own a pet, according to the 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). This is up from 56 percent of U.S. households in 1988, the first year the survey was conducted. The most common pet is a dog, then a cat, followed by freshwater fish. The increase in pet ownership just shows how we are making pets part of our family, and for a good reason.
Every time you gaze into your pets’ eyes, both of your levels of oxytocin — the “attachment hormone” — start to rise. Oxytocin has long been referred to as “the love hormone” or the “cuddle hormone,” because we (and our pets) release it when we touch or look lovingly into someone's eyes. Oxytocin is actually more than a mere “love hormone,” it's also associated with boosting trust and empathy while reducing stress and anxiety.
Adopt a pet and your heart will thank you! Numerous studies have explored the relationship between pet ownership and cardiovascular disease, with many reporting beneficial effects. These include increased physical activity, reduced blood pressure, diminished sympathetic responses to stress, and improved survival after an acute coronary syndrome.
“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
Here’s how pets — especially cats and dogs — may improve your overall health and happiness.
Lower stress and anxiety: Service animals act as companions and they comprise mainly of dogs in the United States, assisting people in different ways since at least 1927. Traditionally, people are familiar with service animals like guide dogs, often seen with people who are sight impaired and hearing dogs for those who are hearing impaired.
These days many service dogs can also assist people who have a condition that isn’t visible, such as seizures or diabetes. This is also true of mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, stress, and anxiety.
Just as a dog can be trained to alert to seizures, a dog can also be trained to sense the changes in a person’s body when they are beginning to have an anxiety or panic attack. They are able to distract and help the handler to refocus and work through the problem. Amazing!
Increased happiness and decreased depression: Pets are a source of comfort for a richer life. With loneliness being a leading contributor to depression, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and in nursing homes, many have found comfort with animals. During the 2020 lockdown, animal rescues have experienced a spike across the country in adoptions and foster applications.
Improved socialization: Pet ownership can be an instant icebreaker. They can help to build human-to-human friendships and social interactions in general. Pet parents are more likely than those without pets to meet new people in their communities or make new friends with someone through pet-related connections. Plus, there is a bonus! Whenever we take our dog out for a walk, they are not just helping us with our social life, they are also helping us by adding physical activity to our lifestyle.
Increased Activity: Dogs can act as the perfect personal trainer. All that time outdoors increases your vitamin D levels and helps keep your body strong. Not into dogs? Cats need physical and mind exercise too, so grab a cat toy and start playing. When selecting a pet, keep in mind that different breeds are better suited for higher exercise levels than others.
Improved Immunity & Allergy Prevention: Research in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology contends that having a dog in infancy may improve a child’s overall immune system, as well as reduce allergies. In fact, it’s believed that the dander in pet hair might serve as a natural immunotherapy for babies and children. And that means a stronger immune system. Learn more natural remedies for allergy relief here.
Caring for a new animal companion goes far beyond providing food, water and shelter. This may be a 10-15 year commitment, so take the time to plan prior to bringing home a pet that will suit your lifestyle. Research different breeds and ask shelter staffers for guidance—they're experts at making perfect matches! Adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue is a win-win, for you and the pet. You can start your search for your best friend at a local rescue or trusted adoption agencies like Petsmart Charities.
Grab the leash, head outside, and dive into new adventures with your furry best friend while enjoying the mood-boosting power of pet parenting. Have fun!