Pet-i-Cure: 10 Benefits of Owning a Pet
“A dog is the only thing on earth that will love you more than you love yourself.”
- Josh Billings
When thinking of ways to moderate stress in life, usually techniques like meditation, yoga and journaling come to mind. These are great techniques, to be sure. But getting a new best friend can also have many stress relieving and health benefits.
While human friends provide great social support and come with some incredible benefits, this article focuses on the benefits of furry friends: cats and dogs!
Research shows that, unless you’re someone who really dislikes animals or is absolutely too busy to care for one accordingly, pets can provide excellent social support, stress relief and other health benefits — perhaps more than people! Here are more benefits of owning a pet:
1. Pets Can Add Structure to Your Life
All of us need some amount of structure in our lives. Pets are entirely dependant on their owners for exercise, food, and health care. So having a pet will undoubtedly instill structure into the owner’s life and will set a steady rhythm to each day.
Morning walks are a good example of how pets keep you on your toes. The last thing you want to do is to come home from a long day at the office and find a “surprise” on your oriental rug or that your sofa has been converted into a chew toy. So you do what’s best for everyone and get out of bed to walk your pal.
This, along with regular feeding and general care for your pet, will give you just enough responsibilities to put you up to par with the rest of society. But obviously, if you have too much structure in your life or if you’re just plain lazy, it might be best for you to just get a fish.
2. Pets Are Date Magnets
Dogs are great for making love connections. Forget Internet matchmaking — a dog is a natural conversation starter. When we’re out walking, having a dog with us can make us more approachable and give people a reason to stop and talk, thereby increasing the number of people we meet, giving us an opportunity to increase our network of friends and acquaintances, which also has great stress management benefits.
This especially helps ease individuals out of social isolation or shyness. People ask about breed, they watch the dog’s tricks. Sometimes the conversation stays at the “dog level,” sometimes it becomes a real social interchange.
3. Pets Can Improve Your Mood
For those who love animals, it’s basically impossible to stay in a bad mood when a pair of loving puppy eyes meets yours, or when a super-soft cat rubs up against your hand.
Studies support the mood-enhancing benefits of pets. A recent one found that individuals with AIDS were less likely to suffer from depression if they owned a pet. According to researchers, people with AIDS who did not own a pet were about three times more likely to report symptoms of depression than those who did not have AIDS. But people with AIDS who had pets were only about 50 percent more likely to report symptoms of depression, as compared to those in the study who did not have AIDS.
4. Pets Encourage You To Get Out And Exercise
Playing with pets is in the top ten physical activity choices for children and families; owning a dog may encourage children to exercise and help reduce childhood obesity. Also an American study showed that those patients who owned a pet had a much better chance of surviving for more than a year after a heart attack — a difference that could not be explained by the extra exercise the dog owners enjoyed.
5. Pets Control Blood Pressure Better Than Drugs
Yes, it’s true. While ACE inhibiting drugs can generally reduce blood pressure, they aren’t as effective on controlling spikes in blood pressure due to stress and tension. However, in a group of hypertensive American stockbrokers who got dogs or cats were found to have lower blood pressure and heart rates than those who didn’t get pets. When they heard of the results, most of those in the non-pet group went out and got pets!
6. Pets Can Improve Family Bonds
Anyone who owns a pet knows that a pet quickly becomes a member of the family. As such, the family addition under the dinner table has tremendous benefits for you and the whole family.
Pets are great stress-busters in domestic situations — a good Sheppard dog will intervene when tensions rise. In addition to teaching compassion, responsibility and nurturing behavior, pets also make great playmates for the kids. Ultimately though, at the end of the day a pet won’t judge you for watching the entire Super Bowl, and that’s what makes them truly wonderful.
7. Pets Are Allergy Fighters
It was once thought that kids who were raised up in a home with dogs and cats were likely to develop pet allergies and asthma. However, a growing number of researches have suggested that kids growing up in a home with “furred animals” — whether it’s a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals — will have less risk of allergies and asthma.
Scientists analyzed the blood of babies immediately after birth and one year later. They were looking for evidence of an allergic reaction, immunity changes, and for reactions to bacteria in the environment. If a dog lived in the home, infants were less likely to show evidence of pet allergies — 19 vs. 33 percent. In addition, they had higher levels of some immune system chemicals — a sign of stronger immune system activation.
Some pets are dirty animals, and this suggests that babies who have greater exposure to dirt and allergens have a stronger immune system.
8. Pets Stave Off Loneliness and Provide Unconditional Love
Pets can be there for you in ways that people can’t. They can offer love and friendship, and can also enjoy comfortable silences, keep secrets and are distinguished snugglers. And they could be the best antidote to loneliness.
Actually, studies show that nursing home residents reported less loneliness when visited by dogs than when they spent time with other individuals! All these benefits can reduce the amount of stress people experience in response to feelings of social isolation and lack of social support from people.
9. Pets Can Reduce Stress — Sometimes More Than People
While we all know the power of talking about your problems with a good buddy who’s also a good listener, researchers found that spending time with a pet may be even better! Recent research shows that, when conducting a task that’s stressful, people actually experienced less stress when their pets were with them than when a supportive friend or even their spouse was present! This may be partly due to the fact that pets don’t judge us; they just love us.
10. Pets for the Aged
Researches have shown that individuals with Alzheimer have fewer anxious outbursts if there is an animal in the home. Their caregivers also feel less burdened when there is a pet, especially if it is a cat, which normally requires less care than a dog.
Walking a dog or just caring for a pet — for elderly people who are able — can provide exercise and companionship. One insurance company, Midland National Life Insurance, asks clients over age 75 if they have a pet as part of their medical screening — which often helps tip the scales in their favor.
Whether you own a pet for therapeutic reasons or purely because you don’t know how to talk to people, the perks of owning one are abundant. So next time you want to tug on his leash for sniffing where he shouldn’t or get mad at him for relieving himself on one of your guest’s foot during Thanksgiving dinner, just look him in the eye and say, “Thanks buddy.”