‘A pet is not just for life. It’s for a healthier, happier life.’ That’s the motto of Irish charity Peata, an organisation promoting the health benefits of keeping domestic animals. While you may have gotten a dog or a cat for companionship, your pet is also having a profound effect on both your physical and mental wellbeing.
Proven to make you happier
Pets are scientifically proven to make you happier. Research by the University of Missouri found people undergo hormonal changes when interacting with dogs; allowing them to cope better with depression, stress and anxiety. After just 15 minutes of petting a furry-friend, our brain releases ‘feel good’ hormones including serotonin and oxytocin. While these so-called 'cuddle chemicals' are released, the stress hormone cortisol is reduced; leaving us feeling happy and relaxed.
Related: Losing a pet is a painful experience —
it's okay to cry
So good are dogs at boosting people's moods that they are regularly used in therapy. In 2014, students in Trinity College were given access to a room full of dogs during exam week; it was a welcome distraction from study periods in the library. Similarly, dogs are often brought into nursing homes to cheer up elderly people who mightn't have many visitors.
Irish Therapy Dogs is one such charity offering this service nationwide. They say, “Stroking, holding and fussing over a canine friend helps reduce our sense of isolation and loneliness. Young and old, fit and frail, alert and impaired; all of us can benefit from the presence of a dog.”
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Pets teach us compassion
Meanwhile, our pets' companionship has knock-on effects. For example, owning a cat or dog instils a sense of compassion in a person; a responsibility to love unconditionally and care for another being. Pets teach us about acceptance, loyalty and friendship. In fact, the emotional bond between owners and their pets can be as strong as many human relationships. They become part of the family, and we mourn their loss just as we would mourn a loved one.
They improve our health
Beyond mental well-being, pets (dogs, in particular) can help improve a person's physical health. Dog owners are more inclined to go for daily walks than non-dog owners; improving their cardiovascular health and boosting their mood. Pets also help reduce our blood pressure; promoting heart health. A study at the University of Maryland found heart attack patients were eight times more likely to live an extra year if they have a dog, in comparison to non-dog owners.
What's more, your pet improves the health of the whole family. Research at the Imperial College London found children who spend time with dogs during their first year of life are less likely to develop asthma and other allergies. The study, which was carried out on 20,000 children of five age groups, found their immune systems are strengthened when exposed to dogs in their early years. It's important to note (and worth bearing in mind) the same results weren't achieved among children and cats.
Photo by Kai-Chieh Chan on Pexels
Considering how much we benefit from our domestic animals, we owe it to them to say thanks. Treats and squeaky toys wouldn't go amiss.
If you're someone without a pet, it might be worth adopting one. Ireland's pounds and animal shelters are full of pets in need of a home. Do them (and your health) a favour by rescuing one from the ISPCA or Dogs Trust today.
Enjoy this feel-good video of dogs being dogs.
Top photo by Alvan Nee on Unsplash