There’s no doubt that the relationship between pets and their owners is a unique and special one that brings joy and fun to both parties. Interestingly, pet ownership, whether it’s a dog or a cat, can also provide us with many therapeutic benefits.
Pets can ease loneliness, reduce stress, promote social interaction, encourage exercise and an active lifestyle, and provide us with unconditional love and affection.
While most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys that come with sharing their lives with animal companions, 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. Studies have 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 our naturally occurring levels of serotonin and dopamine, which work to calm and relax us.
- Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (predictors of heart disease) than those without pets.
- Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without pets.
- Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.
People with limited opportunity for human social interaction can really benefit from pet ownership and the emotional bonds that they provide. Research which studied people of 60 years of age and older, who were not living with human companions but were living with a pet, showed evidence that they required less medical services and were much more satisfied with their lives.
The easy and relaxed relationship that most people have with their pets also brings another benefit to people living alone. People report that when they are out walking with their dogs strangers are much more likely to stop and talk with them, mostly because there is a dog to say hello to and people seem to enjoy that moment of relaxed interaction with a pet; pets act as a catalyst for conversation between friends and even strangers.
One of the reasons for this therapeutic effect is that pets fulfill the basic human need to be touched by another living creature. Even hardened criminals in prison have shown long-term changes in their behaviour after interacting with pets, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time.
The benefits to children
Children can benefit greatly from playing with pets as a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of stimulation for the brain and body. Playing with a pet can even be a doorway to learning for a child; it can stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity, and most importantly teach them the responsibilities that come from caring for another living creature. The rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the importance of perseverance and the concept that good behaviour brings with it rewards. Caring for a furry friend can also offer another benefit to a child – immense joy and love.
Pets can help children with learning disabilities learn how to manage stress and calm themselves, making them better equipped to overcome the challenges of their disorder. Playing and exercising with a pet can help a child with learning disorders remain alert and attentive throughout the day. It can also be a great antidote to stress and frustration caused by the learning disability.
So, whether you have a cat or a dog, you can see that all the love, attention and affection you pour on them will be repaid in many different, worthwhile ways – every day of your life.