According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), an estimated 68% of U.S. households have a pet. The NIH has taken it a step further to actually partner with the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition to fund research studies on the health benefits of pet ownership, both physical and mental, as have various Universities across the nation – and the outcomes of the research studies have been positive.
Comfort and emotional support -The interaction with a friendly animal can reduce anxiety. On a chemical level, pet ownership can decrease levels of cortisol (a stress hormone that can damage your body) in your blood and raise levels of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine. Blood pressure drops while muscles relax. The result is you’ll feel better emotionally; you will feel happier and more positive. Even the risk of heart disease is reduced. This is why therapy dogs and cats are sometimes brought into hospitals or nursing homes to help reduce patients’ stress and anxiety.
Animals stimulate increased exercise – Walking the dog several times a day, throwing toys with a cat, participating in agility training for dogs and rabbits, riding a horse – these are all physical activities that benefit health for both the human and animal. The interaction also strengthens the human/animal bond, and both look forward to the mood-enhancing, shared playtime/exercise experience.
A sense of purpose and social support – The responsibility of caring for an animal gives one a sense of purpose and belonging that in turn can increase feelings of positivity and lower stress levels. Studies have shown that animals can reduce loneliness and increase feelings of social support. People who interact with animals experience a boost in levels of oxytocin, the hormone that promotes love and trust. Health benefits are reduced blood pressure and heart rate.
It’s important to match an animal with your personal goals and economic ability to care for them. Ask yourself the following questions:
Is your goal to increase exercise? An animal such as a dog who requires walking and social activity might be your match. A horse requires greater mental and physical skill to train and ride, and a much larger financial commitment.
Is your goal to lower stress but with little physical interaction? Maybe a fish aquarium will suffice.
Is your goal to teach a child a sense of responsibility? Perhaps a playful kitten or small pocket pet such as a mouse or hamster is the answer.
Pet ownership not only provides health benefits, it is a commitment to care for an animal through its life span. Once you determine your goals and financial ability to commit to a pet, whether it be a dog, cat, pocket pet or bird, the human health benefits can far outweigh any negative aspects. Research says.