April 11 is National Pet Day, and those of us who live with pets can attest to the multiple ways they enrich our lives. The truth is that the benefits of having pets are scientifically proven, not just our emotional bias. The Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI) gathers the latest information on the positive health effects pet companions have on their humans.
Pet love is known to provide emotional support and in doing so, to help reduce stress. Cortisol is a hormone activated by stress, and studies have found that being around animals can decrease cortisol levels.1 Being around pets has proven to be so effective that some workplaces and schools are allowing dogs to be present.
Pets are also known to help with hypertension. A study of stockbrokers found that having a dog or cat helped lower the spike in blood pressure that happens when a person is stressed. Another study of hospitalized heart patients found that dogs decreased the patients’ blood pressure by about 10%!2
Cats specifically have shown they are able to decrease the likelihood of a stroke by more than a third! Researcher theorize that petting a cat can lower stress. They also surmise that the type of people who own cats might tend to be more stress-free naturally.3
Pets require care and can be a lot of work; however, even that ends up being helpful for our health, especially mentally. Whether it’s a daily wellness routine of walking, grooming or feeding, our labor of love provides a sense of purpose that overflows into other parts of our lives. This sense of purpose and the ability to take care of a loved pet can alleviate some mental health conditions, including PTSD, anxiety and depression.4
A 2016 HABRI study explored the role of pets in the social networks of people managing a long-term mental health issue and found that pets contribute to a stronger sense of identity, provide a sense of security and routine that reinforces stable cognition and serve as positive distractions from internal distress signals.5 For these reasons, pets are now widely used as support and therapy animals.
Even caring for fish can have positive effects. A recent study showed that caring for fish helped teens with diabetes better manage their disease. Researchers had a group of teens with type 1 diabetes care for pet fish twice a day by feeding and checking water levels. The caretaking routine also included changing the tank water weekly. The researchers tracked how consistently the teens checked their blood glucose levels compared with teens who didn’t have fish to care for. The teens with fish to care for were more disciplined about checking their own blood glucose levels, a key to maintaining their health.6
Considering that cats and dogs all have pet dander, a seven-year study of almost 500 children produced some interesting results. Children exposed to dogs and cats as babies were half as likely to have allergies and risk factors for asthma as they grew up than those who had no pets. Infants with more than one pet in the home had the lowest risk of allergies!7
There are so many animals available for adoption and waiting for a loving home. When you save an animal’s life, it will repay you and end up saving yours in so many other ways! Why not check out your local shelters, rescues and pounds and welcome one or more new family members!
1, 2, 3, 7 https://www.animalhealthfoundation.org/blog/2012/10/8-health-benefits-of-having-a-pet/?gclid=Cj0KCQjww4-hBhCtARIsAC9gR3bsJF3jJTRin9pp3bUSRqhD6-XKfEgrM-teCN9TNSKKQGrfpY_FgAEaAkOpEALw_wcB
4, 5 https://www.onehealth.org/blog/10-mental-physical-health-benefits-of-having-pets