The Link Between Pets and Positive Mental Health, Explained
Many pet owners proudly sport bumper stickers that say, “Who rescued who?” If you’re a pet owner, you take this message to heart. Furry friends can change our lives for the better. Once they become part of your family, it’s hard to imagine life without them!
It doesn’t take a scientist to know that snuggling with a golden retriever or admiring a chubby cat makes us happy. In fact, studies have proven that owning a pet results in positive mental health effects. They help people overcome depression and provide emotional support to military veterans and survivors of domestic violence, for example. No matter what’s going on in your life, furry friends can boost your mood when you’re feeling down.
Pets make us instantly happier
Ever wonder why looking at your dog always cheers you up? It’s because interacting with pets triggers a release of oxytocin. It’s the chemical mothers experience when they see their babies and it fills them with love. And pets receive a boost of oxytocin in return! Pets and their owners can bond just with a simple glance at each other.
Though dogs and cats aren’t our biological children, it makes sense that we get a rush of oxytocin. After all, they’re our fur babies, and some people even proudly call themselves dog moms!
Pets do more than help us discover our capacity for love. A quick play session with your dog or cat is proven to decrease cortisol levels. This alleviates stress for both you and your furry friend. Get outside on a sunny day and spend a few minutes playing fetch with your dog—it’ll give you both some light exercise, which also helps get rid of stress.
Emotional support dogs save lives
Many mental health experts recommend patients adopt a pet to help combat loneliness and depression. In fact, one poll revealed that about 74 percent of participating physicians would prescribe a pet for a patient’s health. Some dogs go the extra mile to help those who need it the most. They’re specially trained to become emotional support dogs and dedicate their lives to making owners happy.
In particular, emotional support dogs produce amazing results for military veterans. They often live with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dogs have the power to alleviate symptoms of PTSD and help veterans become adjusted to normal life again. Emotional support dogs have a positive effect on family members of veterans, as well.
Pets also help women recover from domestic abuse. In fact, some are reluctant to escape their abuser because they don’t want to leave their pets behind. It’s why the federal government provides grants to make women’s shelters pet-friendly. Such amendments allow women to get the help they need, while relying on the emotional support of their pets.
Animals provide a sense of community
Furry friends have the ability to ease tensions during social encounters. One study discovered children with autism more readily interact with other people if a friendly animal is there to play with. This was proven more effective than giving them a toy. Pets help children with autism feel more relaxed and get along with their peers.
In general, studies show that pet owners are more involved with their community. This makes sense, seeing as pets can become conversation starters that bridge the gap between people meeting for the first time. Dog parks are also a great way to build connections among fellow dog-lovers in your town.
Pets improve our physical health
Physicians recommend pets for more than just mental health reasons. While the importance of mental health should never be understated, a furry friend’s love has physical benefits as well. Playing with your dog or cat leads to decreased blood pressure. This in turn can help prevent diseases like stroke and heart failure. In other words, there’s no harm in a quick round of fetch!
A pet also leads to overall improved fitness. Our furry friends need physical activity just as much as we do. A walk around the neighborhood keeps both the dog and owner in shape and encourages a healthier lifestyle. We want to take care of our pets, and in doing so, we end up taking care of ourselves.
Don’t have a pet? Worry not: there are plenty of ways to get involved with animals. If your friend is going on vacation, offer to dog-sit for them. You can also volunteer at your local animal shelter. People who care for pets are always looking to share the love!