The Physical and Mental Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
By Dr. Eva Evans, a veterinarian and writer for Pets Best, a dog health insurance and cat health insurance agency.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s a great time to reflect on the love we have for our pets. While we no doubt love our furry babies, the heart of the matter is that they love us just as much! The news is full of pets performing heroic acts to save their owners, cute videos of puppies curling up with human babies, and cats adopting other species as their own. The often unseen effects of owning a dog or cat, however, are related to your health and how pets improve your health.
The Healing Power of Touch
It’s no secret that animals and humans share a special bond. It’s also well known that being around pets can positively impact your health too! Numerous studies concerning the health benefits associated with animals involve touch. The American Heart Association found that therapy dogs improved the health of hospitalized congestive heart failure patients. After spending just 12 minutes with a therapy dog, patients showed significantly reduced stress hormones, anxiety, and blood pressure. This translated into a more positive patient outcome. This benefit doesn’t just apply to humans either. Pets can benefit from human touch including petting and massage too.
Mental Health Benefits of Owning Pets
Pets aren’t just good for our physical health, they also improve mental health! Take this to heart: A study from Vanderbilt University found that therapy dogs had a major positive effect on children undergoing chemotherapy. Pediatric cancer patients exposed to therapy dogs had decreased anxiety and were able to adapt better socially after chemotherapy treatments. Pets also help ward off loneliness and counter feelings of rejection that can occur in everyday life. A study by the American Psychological Association (APA) found that pet owners tended to be less lonely, more physically fit, less fearful and possess greater self-esteem than non-pet owners. According to the APA study, pets also give people a meaningful existence.
Pets Help Keep All of Us Healthy
Therapy pets make a difference in the lives of countless people. These pets are the heart and soul of wellness. Therapy pets (which includes mainly dogs but also cats, horses, pigs, rabbits, goats and more) have changed lives for people struggling with physical, mental and emotional issues. They are being used to help rehabilitate inmates, decrease PTSD in soldiers returning from war, help autistic children cope with new environments and increase immune function in people with illnesses. Pets for Vets is one such organization. It unites veterans in need with pets in need to help them both overcome life’s challenges and receive a second chance.
Dogs in the Classroom
Therapy dogs are also becoming common in classrooms across the nation as they help students feel more at ease. This translates into better grades. Pets Best recognizes these superb therapy dogs every March with its Books & Barks Contest. Since 2014, the contest has donated funds to school reading programs and animal charities selected by its winners.
So next time you get sick, have a “heart to heart” conversation with your doctor and increase your daily dose of animal interaction. This month, let’s take time to show them our love with a heartfelt hug and kiss!
Photo above: One of the Pets Best “Books & Barks” contest winners, Ellie Rose, a Bernese mountain dog and the students she reads to at Peterson Elementary in Naperville, Illinois.