Fact: pets make you feel good. At the end of a stressful day, a few minutes playing with a gleeful dog, stroking a purring cat, or even watching some colourful fish flit by can dissolve tension and calm your mind. Having an animal to care for also encourages you to be more active and social, and pet owners experience lower blood pressure, better fitness, and overall longer lives than those without pets.
Petting your dog or cat is calming and comforting for both of you. The act of bonding and creating a connection releases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone which helps reduce blood pressure and cortisol (a hormone related to stress) levels. The gentle, rhythmic action can also encourage mindfulness, which has a range of wellbeing benefits. Concentrate on the texture, warmth and breathing of your pet and enjoy engaging fully with the present moment. (Fun fact: a study at the State University of New York even showed that pets can be more supportive in times of stress than friends or partners!)
Pets are excellent providers of companionship, helping to prevent you from getting lonely and making you feel more positive. Take some time out to play with them – the fun, bonding activity helps increase your levels of serotonin and dopamine, which give you that rush of happy feelings, as well as reducing levels of stress hormones like cortisol. People who are experiencing low mood or even depression may well find that a furry friend helps improve their mood by providing companionship, routine, social interaction and touch.
Dogs in particular are great for encouraging you to be more active. Having the responsibility of regularly walking your pup can be the motivator you need to fit physical activity into your day – you’re much less likely to skip your daily walk if it’s for the benefit of your dog too. A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that dog owners were 34 per cent more likely to complete the recommended minimum amount of exercise per week. Other research has shown that dog owners walk 19 more minutes a week on average, and that having a family dog increases physical activity among adolescents.
Many researchers have found that spending time with an animal – whether it’s stroking a cat or dog or gazing at fish in an aquarium – can result in lowered blood pressure and pulse rate. One study on pets and blood pressure found that having a cat or dog around lowered blood pressure in hypertensive stockbrokers more effectively than traditionally prescribed hypertension medication. study on pets and blood pressure. In another study on the therapeutic benefits of pets, children were found to have lower blood pressure in the mere presence of a dog, even if they didn’t interact with the animal.
Along with lower blood pressure, pets can give your cardiovascular health a boost in several ways. Research has shown that men with pets have less signs of heart disease (lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels) than non-owners, and people who have owned a cat at some point in their lives have a 37% lower risk of dying of a heart attack – though the exact reason for this result is not known. Pets are also good for your health if you have already experienced heart trouble. Heart attack patients and people with serious abnormal heart rhythms who have pets survive longer than those with the same problems who do not have pets, according to several studies.
Children who grow up around pets are less likely to develop common allergies like dust, grass, ragweed and pet allergies, and are at a lower risk of asthma. Scientists speculate this is because the immune system becomes desensitised to the allergens.
Pets – particularly dogs – can help you connect with other people. Take your dog for a walk and chances are someone will stop to smile or comment – they’re an instant conversation-starter. Heading to a dog park can be a great way to chat with other dog owners in your neighbourhood while the pups play, helping you get a little more social interaction into your day and even meet new people to form friendships.
Keep your furry family members in the best health with our Pet Health Centre.