After a long day at work, nothing lifts your spirits like being greeted at the door by a wagging tail and a sloppy kiss. Pets provide company and companionship but, for many pet owners, they’re so much more – they’re members of the family. In fact, research shows that owning pets provides some very real mental and physical health benefits ranging from stress relief to improved cardiovascular health.
Caring for a pet is a big responsibility and not one that should be entered into lightly. If you have the time and the resources to properly care for a pet, however, your furry friend will reward you with endless love and affection. Read on to learn the mental health benefits of owning a pet.
Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Owning a Pet
Any pet owner knows the joy that comes with sharing your life with an animal. Not only do our pets provide company and social interaction, but they provide a surprising degree of emotional support as well. Your pet may not be able to understand what you’re saying, but animals are acutely tuned to human behavior and emotion. After a difficult day, sometimes simply having a furry friend there to rest his head on your lap is all you need to start feeling better.
Not only do pets provide companionship, but they can help fulfill our basic human need for physical touch. Research shows touch is fundamental to human connection, bonding, and health. Touch has the power to calm cardiovascular stress and it triggers the release of oxytocin in the brain. If you live alone, having a pet can help meet this need. Similarly, hugging, petting, or otherwise touching an animal can relieve stress and anxiety while also easing loneliness.
Here are some additional benefits associated with owning a pet:
- Having a pet provides you with a sense of companionship – someone to share your life with and who makes you feel less alone, even if you live by yourself.
- Studies show that pet owners tend to be healthier overall than non-pet owners, evidenced by the fact that they tend to require 30% fewer physician visits over the course of the year.
- 3.Pets offer unconditional love and, while they may not understand all the words you say, they make great listeners when you need them.
- The companionship of a pet can help relieve stress and ease anxiety – interacting with pets has been shown to boost dopamine and serotonin production.
- Caring for a pet can help you learn valuable interpersonal skills – it can help you become more empathetic and understanding which may even benefit your personal relationships.
- Having a dog can significantly increase your level of physical activity through daily walks – people who walk their dog 5 times a week exhibit lower levels of obesity than non-pet-owners.
- The act of caring for and training a pet helps create a certain degree of structure in your life which can be beneficial for your mental and physical health.
- Owning a pet can improve your cardiovascular health and reduce your risk for heart attack by lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Interacting with your pet may help you feel happier or more positive – studies show that interacting with nature is associated with improved well-being and better mental health.
When it comes to the benefits of owning a pet, you’re not limited to traditional pets like cats and dogs. If you’re allergic to cats or have limited space to work with, a small animal like a rabbit or guinea pig might be a better option. Birds are great for social interaction and even having an aquarium can help ease stress and relieve tension. If you’re into exotic pets, reptiles offer an exciting challenge.
While welcoming a pet into your life can boost your mental health, you can’t rely on your pet to do it all. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, reach out to a family member or friend for support or try online therapy as a convenient and affordable option to get the help you need from home. When you’re taking care of yourself, mentally and physically, you’ll be better able to care for your pet.
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