By Susan Paretts
Having a pet is not only a lot of fun, but your furry companion can provide a variety of therapeutic benefits, too. Research shows that pets can improve our health, make us more socially active and help us get the exercise we need to stay fit. Pets may even help prevent allergies in children and assist them with learning activities. There are myriad ways our four-legged friends help make our lives happier and healthier.
Furry Friends Make Us Feel Good
Being around your pet gives you a lift because it increases the amount of feel-good hormones in your body, such as oxytocin and serotonin. These are chemicals that make you feel happy and relaxed. Along the same lines, spending time with your animal companion can help decrease stress hormones, such as cortisol, that our bodies produce when we’re anxious.
Rachel Eddins, a licensed professional counselor of the Eddins Counseling Group in Houston, Texas, recommends owning a pet as a healthy way to improve your mood. “Many people do not get enough pleasure in their lives and turn to food, TV, alcohol, etc. as their primary source of pleasure or entertainment,” Eddins explains. “This can lead to unhealthy behaviors as well as low mood, because the pleasure is short-lived. Pets can be highly therapeutic in this regard because they can be both—a source of pleasure and entertainment.”
Dogs and Cats are Good for Kids
Pets help teach children responsibility and may make them healthier adults. According to veterinarian Ken Tudor of the Well Dog Place in Claremont, California and the Hearthstone Homemade website, several studies have shown that children who grow up in households with dogs or cats don’t develop allergies or asthma later in life.
Dr. Tudor says that many studies show that children with pets have improved self-esteem, greater cognitive development and better social skills. The Purdue University Center for the Human-Animal Bond also asserts that children who own pets may even become more nurturing parents later in life. Our four-legged friends encourage empathy in children, and their presence helps kids achieve academically as well.
Pets Are Just What the Doctor Ordered
Forget an apple a day. Owning a pet is just what the doctor ordered to help you stay healthy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having a pet can help lower your blood pressure, as well as your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition, an article published in medical journal the BMJ, or British Medical Journal, stated that pets may help people recover from major illnesses like a heart attack, stroke or cancer. Pets of all sizes also provide companionship to the elderly and ill, improving their overall health and well-being, according to Darlene Richards, a licensed veterinary technician in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Four-Legged Friends Help Break the Ice
Not only do pets provide you with much-needed companionship, they can help you make new friends. Having a pet along can be a starting point for a conversation with a potential friend or even a romantic partner. According to the BMJ, pets are great “social catalysts” for people of all ages, including the elderly and disabled.
Pets Keep Us Moving
“Pets can be a motivation to get out the door when you don’t feel like exercising or going to the gym,” Eddins says. As a result, having a pet can help you stay fit. Walking your dog or playing interactive games with your kitty indoors gives you both some exercise. And that physical activity causes your body to release of endorphins—chemicals that make you feel good and help reduce symptoms of depression.
Pets not only help relieve our stress, but they improve our physical and mental well-being. Return the favor to your furry friend by playing a game of catch or giving him a pet massage. He’ll enjoy being pampered, and the time together will make you both feel good.