Many of us animals lovers don’t need an excuse to explain to others why our pets are so vital to our well-being. We consider them not just “pets”, but rather members of the family, and the joy the bring us everyday is overwhelming. But every so often, we meet someone who just doesn’t get it… They will look at you like you’re an alien as you sift through the dozens of pictures of your pets on your phone to show them during that dinner party. They are unable to comprehend why we would willing live with, care for, and pay for, a furry creature that can’t even “talk” to us. But before you walk away disgruntled as to why this person doesn’t think your pet is the most adorable thing they’ve ever seen, perhaps a little bit of education on how companion animals improve our overall health will change that pet-less person’s mind.
Let’s start with the heart, since we can’t live without a functioning one of those! Multiple studies suggest owning and petting a dog or cat can actually reduce heart disease risk factors. The American Heart Association supports that pet owners tend to have less stress-related heart problems. Petting a purring cat or cuddling a cute puppy has been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease cortisol and norepinephrine levels, and lower cholesterol, all of which can cause plaque build up in our arteries. In addition, pets help our bodies release calming neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine. Increased levels of serotonin and dopamine are linked with reduction in depression, and an overall increased feeling of well-being. It has also been proven that heart attack patients live longer when they own a pet!
Not surprisingly, for many years dogs have been trained to become licensed therapy dogs to help all sorts of humans, particularly elderly and debilitated patients. Whether the person just had a visit from a therapy dog, or has their own working dog, research shows particularly Alzheimer’s and dementia patients benefit greatly from pet interactions, recognizing them as “non-threatening”. After a visit from a therapy dog, patients have shown to eat better, have fewer episodes of anxiety, and increase social interactions. Elderly folks with pets at home are less likely to suffer from depression and loneliness, and it’s suggested the strong emotional attachment to their pets increases longevity and improves survival rates amongst ill patients.
In general, pets can reduce depression! The companionship of our pets help decrease loneliness. Dogs in particular are a great avenue for people to get more exercise, yet another healthy, natural way for our bodies release the “feel-good” hormones like serotonin and dopamine. Having a dog can gently force someone with depression to get off the couch, leave the house, and get out and about. Even short walks can help relieve depressive episodes. More exercise, of course, is also linked with longer, healthier lifestyles, so it’s no shock that owning a dog can reduce obesity.
Also consider the increased likelihood for social interaction when you own a pet. Many of us love our pets so much, we can’t help but talk about them to others. Walking your dog can be a great conversation stimulator with a complete stranger… In fact, I met my spouse because we started walking and talking with our dogs! I joke with my single guy friends to get a puppy — they are total chick magnets! Pets create a neutral icebreaker and encourage social interactions with others, which can increase our overall happiness.
Whatever way you look at it, pets are a great vector for us humans to enjoy life. Period. That unconditional love and companionship does a world of good for our health, and I would bet they help in other ways we haven’t even discovered yet. So next time you meet someone perplexed by your pet ownership, just walk away smiling, knowing you are going to live a longer, happier life than them 🙂