If you’ve ever come home after a long day to have your dog—or better yet, dogs—greet you at the door, you know. If you’ve had a cat curl up on your lap and purr herself to sleep, you get it.
Pets have a way of making it all better. But did you know that pets do more than brighten your mood? That they can provide other tangible health benefits? And we’re not just talking about dogs or cats, either.
OK, so I know what I just said about mood, but pets do increase your level of happiness, and not just in the moment—we’re talking about real mental health benefits. Having a pet can help alleviate depression, relieve stress, and ease loneliness.
Studies have shown when we interact with pets, our brains release dopamine (the “pleasure” hormone), oxytocin (the “love” hormone), and serotonin, among other positive chemical changes. We also have significantly lower levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone.
Pets can also serve as a trusted companion for those suffering from loneliness or isolation, especially older adults.
Pets can help you socialize, which ties back to your mental health.
How many times have you struck up a conversation with a stranger walking a dog? Or maybe you deepen friendships by swapping pet stories. Who doesn’t love talking about or hearing about pets? (We once had a dog who would chase planes as they crossed overhead. It worked. We never had one land in our yard, but I digress.)
Having a pet, especially a dog, can do your heart a lot of good. Of course, frequent walks with your pooch are good exercise. But even controlling for other factors, studies have found that having a dog can lower your blood pressure and your cholesterol, and as a result lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Did you know having a pet may help boost your child’s immune system? Although studies are not yet conclusive, many have indicated that young children who live with cats and dogs are less likely to develop allergies and, perhaps, asthma. It is important to note that exposure to a pet can be a trigger for a child who already has asthma.
For those with type 1 diabetes, there are diabetes assist dogs who can detect low or rapidly dropping blood sugar levels. These dogs are trained to recognize certain smells on a human’s breath and when they are detected, the dogs are trained to give their owners a nudge or paw at them. Some are even trained to get glucose tablets or juice, retrieve an emergency phone, or get help from another person in the house.
So, pets are pretty great, right? Having a pet is a real commitment, but if you’re willing to make it, it’s well worth the effort. Find a reputable animal shelter, rescue, or breeder. See how much a furry little friend—or even a scaly or feathered one—can help change your life.
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