Professionally trained helper animals—such as guide dogs for the blind—offer obvious benefits to humans. However, the average domestic pet, such as a dog, cat—even a goldfish—can also provide many therapeutic and health benefits. Pets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, promote social interaction, encourage exercise and playfulness, and provide unconditional love and affection. Caring for a pet may even help you live longer.
While most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with companion animals, many remain unaware of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure of playing with or snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal bond. The American Heart Association has linked the ownership of pets, especially dogs, with a reduced risk for heart disease and greater longevity.
Studies have also found that:
- Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
- People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets.
- Playing with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
- While people with dogs often experience the greatest health benefits, a pet doesn’t necessarily have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and lower pulse rate.
One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that most pets fulfill the basic human need to touch. The companionship of a pet can also ease loneliness, and some pets are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially boost mood.
Adopting healthy lifestyle changes can play an important role in easing symptoms of depression, stress, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and anxiety and also help the elderly and children.. Caring for a pet can help with those healthy lifestyle changes by:
- Increasing exercise.
- Providing companionship.
- Helping meet new people.
- Reducing anxiety
- Adding structure and routine to your day.
- Providing sensory stress relief.