Enjoying Better Health with Pets
If you are a pet owner who considers your pet a family member, then you probably already know how much your pet adds to your life. Pets are there for us on good days and bad, ready to offer unconditional love, support, and companionship. But have you ever considered that having a pet might actually improve your health?
Over the years, research has suggested an association between pet ownership and better health. This association doesn’t necessarily mean that owning a pet will make you healthier, but it does open the door to the possibility that owning a pet may provide health benefits.
Here are a few ways having a pet can contribute to a healthier, happier life:
Walking is a great way to exercise with your best friend. Gazing into your dog’s eyes releases oxytocin.
- More Physical Activity
Dogs make great exercise companions, and owning a dog can provide the perfect opportunity to get off the couch and go for a walk. Research suggests that dog owners are more likely to get the recommended two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking) each week. That physical activity can help dog owners keep off extra weight, maintain a healthier body mass index, and stay in better shape, all while sharing outdoor time with their best friend!
- Increased Social Interaction
If you’re a dog walker, you probably know that dogs are great conversation starters. Research suggests that walking your dog can make you more likely to meet your neighbors. It also provides opportunities to socialize, such as meeting other dog owners in the park, which can lead to lasting friendships and meaningful relationships.
- Better Stress Management and Emotional Support
Pets can be wonderful providers of emotional support, helping to manage anxiety and stress and alleviate depression. The constant companionship of a pet, such as a cat or dog, can reduce loneliness and provide daily structure. Research has suggested that being a pet’s caretaker can help create a feeling of purpose, leading to a greater sense of well-being, especially for older adults.
Taking part in pleasurable activities with your pet—such as playing together—can raise your levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, resulting in pleasurable and calming sensations. Petting your cat or dog can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Research has even suggested that when owners and their dogs gaze into each other’s eyes, they both release oxytocin, the same “love” hormone involved in mother-infant bonding during breastfeeding.
- Enhanced Heart Health
Owning a pet, particularly a dog, may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Some evidence has suggested that pet ownership can lower blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and triglyceride levels, which are key to heart health. And heart attack patients who have pets may survive longer than those who don’t own pets. The reasons for these potential boosts to heart health aren’t clear cut, but other potential benefits of pet ownership—such as increased physical activity and better stress management—are great for your heart health, too!
- Reduced Allergies
A number of studies have suggested that children who grow up with furred animals, such as dogs and cats, are less likely to develop allergies. When young children are exposed to the dirt and allergens that pets can bring into a home, the exposure may help them build stronger immune systems.
Pets can benefit our lives in many ways, so it’s nice to know that they have the potential to make us healthier, too! Remember, however, the main goal of pet adoption should always be to give a pet a loving home and build a relationship that brings joy to both owner and pet alike.