Pets can be a wonderful addition to your life, becoming part of your family and bringing lots of joy, laughter, entertainment and companionship. There’s nothing quite like a cat purring calmly on your lap, or a dog who’s always overjoyed to see you when you come home. But did you know that the benefits of pets extend to your health? The following are just a few ways furry and fluffy friends can support your well-being.
How does having pets at home support health?
That lovable kitten or loyal dog can trigger the release of a hormone in your body called oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the love hormone” or “the cuddle hormone.” The release of this hormone, in turn, can boost your nervous system’s parasympathetic response—one of the ways that your body naturally regenerates and maintains balance. The parasympathetic response, which is the opposite of the stress response, can help to slow your heart rate, enhance your glandular and intestinal functions and relax some muscles.
Your pet’s wellness may also get a boost from oxytocin. Studies show that some domestic animals have higher oxytocin levels when interacting in positive ways with their owners. This helps explain why many pets need bonding to be content, and why isolating some animals can cause them emotional stress.
Feelings of wellness
Surges of oxytocin in your body may contribute to the love and the strong bond you feel for your pet, while also promoting a sense of belonging and feelings of self-esteem. If you’ve experienced this, you know how well pets can help you to live in the present moment, forget about the cares of the world, and connect you with what matters most. Pet ownership seems to have unique healthy living benefits in this regard for children, and according to some reports autistic children who interact with pets may be able to interact more successfully with people.
Blood pressure benefits
The release of oxytocin can also lower blood pressure, and research shows that caring for a pet may be linked to reduced blood pressure. One study found that pet owners have both lower blood pressure and slower heart rates than non-pet owners, while undergoing stress tests as well as when resting.
Research also shows that the benefits of pets also include promoting a healthy heart, and it may help lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Some studies suggest that owning a pet may reduce levels of cholesterol and triglycerides; other data indicates that pet owners with heart health concerns have a significantly greater likelihood of surviving heart attacks, regardless of the severity of the attacks, compared to non-pet owners. And not only heart attack survivors, but also those with abnormal heart rhythms, may live longer if they own pets than they would otherwise.
Increased physical fitness
Another obvious benefit to pet ownership (particularly if your pet is a dog) is also backed by research: having pets can increase your daily exercise. Dog owners, according to various studies, may get a higher level of exercise and be less prone to being overweight than non-dog owners. One study found that people who walked dogs on a regular basis walked for longer periods of time, and also at a faster rate, than others. Research also suggests that older dog walkers have improved mobility.
A pet may also help offer protection against some allergic reactions. According to one study, early exposure to pet dander can reduce allergies later in life. (Infants less than one year old who were exposed to more than two cats or dogs showed less development of allergies by the age of about six.) Some research indicates that infants exposed to cats and dogs also experience fewer ear infections and colds than other infants.
We all know that pets can improve your social life and help you make new friends of your own species. A number of studies have borne out that people who walk their dogs are more socially connected, while other research shows that increasing social relationships can contribute to longevity and help prevent physical and mental decline with aging.
Stress & anxiety support
Last but not least, the presence of pets may also lower anxiety in clinical settings. Health clinics are increasingly using pet-assisted therapies, incorporating specially trained animals into patient care, and pets are being used to help those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Clinicians often describe the benefits pets can have on patients, including not only reduced anxiety but also enhanced moods and a greater sense of well-being.