Your pets bring so much joy to your life, but did you know that spending time with them could be better for your health? Many medical & psychological studies show that pet owners live happier, healthier lives than non-pet owners.
Here are 5 ways that the companionship of your pet can improve your health:
1. Healthier Heart
According to the Harvard School of Medicine, studies show that “dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners.” They attribute this to the notion that a dog makes them calmer & they also get more exercise on average. They also report that “the power of touch also appears to be an important part of the ‘pet effect’.” Healthier hearts aren't limited to dog owners, though. A University of Minnesota study showed that cat owners have lower stress levels, lower cholesterol and lower risk of stroke!
Other studies show that heart attack survivors & people with abnormal heart rhythms live longer than people without pets.
2. Stress Soothers
Petting your cat or dog simply feels good; but why is that? Blair Justice (Psychology professor & author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health) tells WebMD that any enjoyable activity, such as petting your dog, can elevate levels of serotonin & dopamine, which have pleasurable & calming properties. Another study found that your pet can actually soothe you more than the presence of a friend or spouse during a stressful situation!
3. Depression Relief
Therese Borchard (Associate Editor of Psych Central) says that one reason pet’s aid in depression relief is simply by offering us unconditional love & acceptance. In a depression study done by John Hopkins- they claim that nursing home residents felt less lonely with an alone visit from a dog, than a visit with both a dog & another resident.
Our dog or cat doesn’t care if we look disheveled, or may be having financial or relationship difficulties. When you walk through that door, you are the best thing since sliced bread, and they love to let you know it.
4. Social Tool
The presence of a pet is a natural icebreaker. We all have walked down the street avoiding eye contact with a stranger. However, if that person is walking a dog (or a cat - it can happen!), we can easily strike up a conversation that would have otherwise not happened. This can make us feel more connected to people, aiding as a natural mood enhancer.
Look out Match.com, having a dog can land you more dates! Beyond a dog being a natural conversation starter, a recent study found that owning a dog actually makes you more attractive to a potential mate!
5. Psychological Repair
It is well known that service dogs do so much more than aiding the physically impaired. One example of this is an organization called Next Step Service Dogs, based out of Escondido, CA, who raises funds and trains dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD.
Judy Keene, Volunteer Director, tells The Drake Center about the amazing work that service dogs are doing for local veterans. “Scientific studies indicate when a dog and person make eye-to-eye contact, it increases a calming bonding chemical called oxytocin in both the person and dog. This benefit is universal about dogs and people but can significantly increase with expert service dog training.”
She gives us an example of a study that showcases the overwhelming impact that trained service dogs have on the lives of soldiers suffering from PTSD:
- Increased patience, impulse control, and emotional regulation
- Improved ability to display affection, decrease in emotional numbness
- Improved sleep
- Decreased depression, increase in positive sense of purpose
- Decrease in startle response
- Improved parenting skills & family dynamics
- Lowered stress levels, increased sense of calm
So if you're feeling low, just remember: scientific studies have shown your furry friend can help you feel better, both physically and mentally! So show them some love - their favorite treats, favorite toys, favorite walks or even their favorite vet - because keeping them healthy gives them even longer to keep you healthy.
This blog post originally appeared on The Drake Center and has been further modified for syndication.