Benefits of Pets
Beyond Cuddles: The Benefits of Having a Pet
The more we study the benefits of having a pet, the more we learn that regular interaction with animals improves the quality of our lives. While the perks of pet ownership are different for everyone, here are some of the most common paybacks.
Exercise—Walking the dog, playing with the cat or generally caring for another living being can offer opportunities for increased movement. For a person who is less mobile, a smaller dog or a cat, or a less traditional pet such as a bird or a bunny might be best.
Company—Cats, dogs and even guinea pigs can be wonderful listeners. Many animals sense when their owners are sad or agitated, and they offer comfort in their own canine or feline (or rodent or avian) ways.
Purpose—Among elderly people, animal companions may also enhance physical well-being, according to the National Center for Health Research. It cites one study in which elderly people who had a dog or cat were better able to perform activities of daily living, such as climbing stairs, bending, preparing meals and self-care. In the study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, researchers suggested that their care-taking role may offer older people a greater sense of responsibility and purpose that improves overall well-being.
Conversation piece—Someone who’s lonely may stand to benefit from more than just a pet’s company. No scientific studies are necessary to prove that walking in public with a pet on a leash leads to plenty of stops, smiles and conversations. Pet ownership may also provide a sense of belonging to specific animal-related communities.
Cuddle time—We know it feels nice to pet an animal, but research shows that the good feeling is linked to some real physical benefits. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels decrease in humans as a result of petting a dog. Serotonin and dopamine, also known as “feel good” hormones, are higher in pet owners. Studies have also shown that the health of the pet is affected by physical contact as well.
Entertainment and distraction—The benefits of pets are not just limited to the cute and cuddly. One study of dementia patients showed that they were better able to eat when they were seated near a fish tank, watching brightly colored fish swim around. Because dementia often interferes with a person’s ability to get adequate nutrition, the fish were literally life savers.
For the company, the entertainment, the connections and the distraction, pets are well worth the extra work. Therapy pets have proven to prolong and improve life for so many; maybe it’s time to consider having your very own pet to love.