Pets have long been an integral part of our lives. As far back as 12,000 years ago, people were being buried with their cats. 8,000 years ago, dogs received opulent special burials. Though it’s not entirely clear why this would be, it shows an undeniable reverence for the animals we keep close. Today, Americans are estimated to own 78 million dogs, 85 million cats, 14 million birds, 12 million small mammals, and 9 million reptiles (ref). Social media and the internet in a general burst at the seams with famous pets, humor pages, and animal appreciation. The modern affection for pets is undeniable.
The love we have for our animal companions is profound and it’s not just some amorphous feeling. Studies have shown the benefits of having pets or for those that regularly interact with animals are tangible.
Pets Decrease Stress
Though the research is still fairly new, studies have shown that interacting with pets lowers our blood pressure (ref). As well as the cortisol levels in our body. Cortisol is a hormone most noted for its association with stress and anxiety. Regardless of whatever stresses are going on in life such as losing a job, breakups, or health issues, having a companion who loves unconditionally keeps us from feeling overwhelmed. A study published in Science magazine even showed that simply sharing long eye-contact with a dog increases oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is famously one of nature’s most potent “feel-good” chemicals.
Furthermore, though it’s not entirely known why, pet ownership has been linked to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. This means that pet owners are less likely to suffer from a devastating health event like a heart attack or stroke.
Pets Can Prevent Allergies and Bolster the Immune System
While it used to be thought that owning a pet would likely cause allergies in children, research is quickly proving the opposite. Studies are showing that children who grow up around “furred animals” are less likely to develop serious allergies or similar conditions like asthma. This includes everything from farm animals to more traditional house pets. In a study in which infant blood samples were taken immediately after birth and then compared with samples taken a year later. Babies who lived with a dog were much less likely to show evidence of allergies by a difference of 14%. (ref) They were also less likely to develop eczema, a skin condition that affects up to 3 million Americans each year.
Babies who grew up around a dog had higher levels of certain immune system chemicals. Which conclusively showed a more robust immune activation overall. This is probably because dogs and other animals tend to be fairly dirty and often expose their owners to allergens like dirt, pollen, and dander. This constant dosing of filth helps to prime the immune system against greater threats. The earlier a child is exposed to furry animals the stronger their immune system develops. And the less likely that they will fall victim to colds, flu, and other mild illnesses.
Pets Increase Our Socialization
One of the biggest benefits of having pets is social interaction. Anyone who has ever walked their dog on the street or in the park has probably found themselves in a friendly conversation with a stranger. More so if they’ve managed to train a cat to be on a leash or a lizard to ride on their shoulder. In short, pets are wonderful conversation starters. People are drawn to animals and it gives them a reason to approach a stranger that they wouldn’t normally speak to. (ref)
One study showed that pet owners were up to 60% more likely to get to know their neighbors. Much like coffee meet-ups for new parents or pick-up basketball games, pet owners were more likely to form social groups. People met up for group walks or doggy play dates. These are often the seeds of lasting friendships and increased social interactions are linked to greater mental health.
Pets Help Us Stay Active and Build Healthy Routines
Whether you’re taking your dog on a 10-mile hike on a forest trail or just playing with your cat, pets undeniably keep you moving. To keep most animals content, especially dogs, you have to walk them and participate in active play. Though you may not have time for the gym, walking the dog, chasing the cat, and maintaining the backyard will keep you moving and your heart rate up.
Any physical activity releases endorphins and exposes us to vitamin C which is important for keeping depression at bay. Add that to that, the benefits of having pets or interacting with pets, as mentioned before, and you have a daily activity that will reduce stress, release dopamine, and increase socialization.
Even more, pets add an important routine to life. Routine is essential for keeping us moving, processing our thoughts and emotions. It prevents us from falling into a depressive hole. Routines help to relieve stress and anxiety. They’ve been shown to alleviate issues associated with bipolar disorder, ADHD, and insomnia. Having a pet in your care that relies on you adds a purpose to live that otherwise might be missing. Walking the dog and cleaning the litter box creates the type of structure that improves mental and physical health.
Benefits Of Having Pets: Woof, Woof!
Human beings have known for some time that having a pet simply makes us happy. It all began from the perspective of survival and sustenance. Soon after we began to revere our animal companions so much that we gave them the type of burial reserved only for loved ones. We have the type of affection for them that is hard to name but so easy to feel. It should thus come as no surprise that the benefits of having pets are tangible and measurable.
Our furry, feathered, and scaled companions improve our health, lower our stress, and expand our social lives.
It is important to recognize and honor our pet’s unconditional love and attention. The only way we can pay them back is to treat them with respect, love, and show them this amazing world. Create memories and share your life with them.
Last but not least, having a pet is a responsibility. It should not be taken hazily or lightly. If you decide to get a pet, please do your research. And more importantly, make sure you are fully committed.
Check out our previous Health & Fitness article here.
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