When you get home after a stressful day at work, your dog greets you frantically at the door, jumping up and down in excitement. Or your cat slinks up from around the corner and rubs against your legs, purring.
It’s no secret that pets make you feel pretty darn good. But the benefits of pet ownership go beyond mere companionship. In fact, research shows that pet ownership can enhance physical and mental health in myriad ways, from protecting your ticker to warding off depression. Read on for five amazing health benefits of pet ownership!
Pets release stress. As any pet owner knows, there is something profoundly soothing about listening to a cat’s soft purrs or staring into a dog’s soulful eyes. According to a 2000 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, subjects who interacted with a cat or dog for five to twenty minutes experienced a dip in their cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. Furthermore, petting an animal was shown to release feel-good endorphins in the brain, proving that cats and dogs do indeed produce a measurable effect on stress and anxiety. So the next time you’re overwhelmed with work or are feeling down, carve out a few minutes to spend with your furry friend—it might just make you feel better.
Pets are good for the heart. Dogs could be your heart’s best friend, research suggests. A study published by the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that interacting with a dog was accompanied by a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate in 60 men and women. Furthermore, a 2013 study published in Circulation found that, in general, dog owners have a lessened risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. Although cat owners reap similar benefits, dog owners seem to have an edge, partly because canines tend to encourage more physical activity among their owners, which in turn boosts heart health. Of course, diet and exercise are the surest ways to fend off heart disease, but your pet might offer a modest boon to your ticker.
Pets fight depression. It’s no wonder why many mental health professionals use therapy dogs to assist those with PTSD and other mental disorders—owning a cat or dog is highly therapeutic, on multiple levels. If you’re battling depression or anxiety, a pet’s unconditional, uncomplicated love can be profoundly comforting. Furthermore, the simple task of caring for another living creature imparts a sense of fulfillment and adds some positive focus to your life. The increased responsibilities—having to clean your cat’s litter box, for example, or take your dog on a walk—can serve as a distraction from other stressors at hand.
Pets make you more social. Animals are natural icebreakers. When you take your dog to the dog park or are sitting in the veterinary waiting room with your cat, fellow pet owners are more apt to strike up a friendly conversation with you. In fact, studies show that dog owners are significantly more likely to be socially engaged than non-dog owner—which is especially beneficial for elderly individuals, as social interaction is crucial for keeping cognition strong and staving off dementia well into old age.
Pets make you more physically active. Another perk of dog ownership: It makes you move more. Dog owners tend to be more physically active that non-dog owners, studies find. For example, a Canadian study found that dog owners walked an average of 300 minutes per week, compared to 168 minutes per week for non-dog owners. Because canines require a good deal of regular exercise, owning a dog might give otherwise-sedentary individuals an extra push to get outside and walk more.
So tonight, make sure to give your cat or dog a lot of TLC to thank them for all of the hidden ways they are benefitting your health.