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Pets and Mental Health

If you’re one of the 80 million pet owners in America, you already know your pet gives you a lot of enjoyment…and science now confirms it! It’s called the pet effect. Whether you own a dog, cat, iguana or goldfish, lizard, parrot, or snake, studies show pets help you live a healthier, happier life.

In this Healthy Insight:

  • Pets give you unconditional love and affection
  • Pets reduce stress and anxiety
  • Pets increase happiness
  • Pets ease loneliness
  • Pets give life meaning and decrease depression
  • Pets help you practice mindful living
  • Pets boost physical health and wellbeing
A woman and her dog

Pets give you unconditional love and affection

Pets fulfill our human need for love and affection. Many pet owners talk to their pets as if they were human, allowing them to work out their problems in a non-judgmental, supportive way. Pets accept you for how you are or whatever mood you’re in. They simply want to be near you, and that kind of unconditional love feels good.

Pets reduce stress and anxiety

Petting, or even sitting next to a dog, cat or other animal reduces stress-related hormones like cortisol in as little as five minutes’ time.  They help you relax, calm jangled nerves and quiet a busy mind. Psychological studies show an increase in oxytocin levels in the brain, reducing fear and anxiety and even decreasing violence.

Pets increase happiness

Interacting with pets elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine, the get-happy hormones. If you’re a pet owner you know this first-hand. There’s nothing like a wagging tail or friendly purr to put a smile on your face at the end of the day. Playing with them makes you feel carefree and happy, and that’s good for your health, too.

Pets include cats dogs and more

Pets ease loneliness

Pets are great companions. They share your daily routine and offer a sense of security and constancy. They make you feel wanted and help take the focus away from your problems.  Dogs especially force you to get out of the house where you likely will encounter other dog owners and strike up a conversation. People who have more social relationships tend to be mentally healthier.

Pets give life meaning and decrease depression

Everyone likes feeling needed and wanted and a pet is perfect for this. Caring for a living creature adds purpose to your day. This is true even if the pet doesn’t interact with you. In a 2016 study, elderly people were given five crickets to care for during an eight-week time period. Researchers studied their mood and found those participants with the crickets were less depressed than those without crickets. It seems that doing good enhances quality and meaning in life.

Pets help you practice mindful living

Since pets live in the moment, they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what tomorrow may bring. Mindful living is a valuable lesson pets teach us.  Pets also add structure to your day and this routine keeps you in the moment too.

Pets boost physical health and wellbeing

The impact of pets on the physical health of owners was first studied 30 years ago and what they discovered has been confirmed in numerous studies since then. When you pet a friendly animal…

  • Blood pressure goes down
  • Heart rate slows
  • Breathing becomes more regular
  • Muscle tension relaxes
  • The immune system gets a boost

Whether it’s a bird, dog, cat, or guinea pig, really any type of pet can provide you with a multitude of health benefits and enrich your life immensely. That’s reason enough to want the best for them too. Make sure they get the care they need so they always feel their best!

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