We’re the buyer of treats. The scratchers of bellies. The trusty scoopers of poop. We take a lot of pride in making sure our pets are living amazing lives. But it turns out our dogs and cats are looking out for us too. They might not even realize it, but pets are so tuned into us humans that they can improve our physical and mental states without even trying.
PETS ARE A “BIOLOGICAL SPA TREATMENT”
At least, that’s how California-based child psychologist Dr. Aubrey Fine described the effect they can have on the human brain. It only takes ten minutes of patting a dog or cat to significantly reduce stress hormone levels in a person’s body — not to mention in their pet’s as well. And while any interaction with a dog or cat is relaxing, it turns out the biggest stress relief comes from one’s very own best friend. Just making eye contact with their dog causes both a person and their animal to experience a surge of oxytocin, the neurotransmitter associated with love that’s released when mothers look at their children.
PETS ACTUALLY MAKE US HEALTHIER
We might be monitoring our pets’ diets and making sure they go for walks, but just look at all the benefits we get in return. In comparison to those without animals, pet owners tend to have a lower risk of heart disease. Maybe it’s due to the lower blood pressure and lower heart rate that we experience when hanging out with a furry friend?
Pet parents also tend to have:
- Better mental and physical health
- Fewer annual doctor visits
- Lower likelihood of taking medicine for sleeping problems
Plus, dog people enjoy:
- Higher self-reported fitness and health
- A tendency to exercise more
PETS HELP US CONNECT
It goes without saying that pets are good company, but they’re especially great at drawing out those of us who feel alone. For adults aged 60 and older, being a pet owner can make them 36% less likely to report loneliness. That’s just one reason why a Human Animal Bond Research Institute poll of physicians showed that 74% of doctors asked would consider prescribing a pet.
For kids, having a pet during childhood and adolescence not only teaches them responsibility and empathy but also strengthens their social skills and self-esteem. In fact, pets can make kids feel more confident about learning — one study showed that kids had an improved attitude toward books when they were allowed to read to dogs.
For those who are coping with extreme stress, pets are a way to feel at ease and practice social skills like eye contact, smiles, use of language and social responsiveness. A study in the Journal of Developmental Psychobiology showed that children with autism felt more at ease in a playgroup with a guinea pig. And in three ongoing studies, researchers are investigating how having a service dog or spending time with wildlife can help military veterans suffering from PTSD.
Pets also have a way of bringing the party wherever they go and acting as a social lubricant for making friends. But in our current COVID-19 situation, pet parents are bringing that bonding online during social distancing. For some, that means getting creative and shooting videos of their dogs and cats on social media. For others, it just means posting their cutest quarantine pet pics for folks who are home without a furry friend. It just shows that pets really can bring us all together, even when we’re far apart.