Does Owning a Pet Affect our Health?
The short answer to this question is yes. Owning a pet affects our lives in many ways and one of these is most definitely the beneficial effects they have on our health. But, why?
We are a nation of animal lovers, in 2016 it was estimated that 11 million (40%) of households owned pets with the population of them standing at around 57 million and the most popular, of course, being cats and dogs.
But the furrier members of our family don’t only add joy to our lives they also help our minds and bodies. In fact, simply stroking a pet can have health benefits as studies have shown that cuddling a pet releases the ‘cuddle chemical’ oxytocin in both human and pet, that has a calming and soothing effect.
Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia has suggested that the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could even help people cope with depression and stress-related disorders.
Similarly, many animals are used for Pets as Therapy – where the likes of cats and dogs provide comfort and affection to those in hospitals, retirement homes, schools, hospices and to people with autism. This could include working with a child who is learning to read or like this dog, comforting nervous patients when they attend the dentist. Ultimately, providing a calming presence and putting the person they are visiting at ease.
But, they also go much further than just calming those in hospital. Dogs sense of smell is around 10,000 times more acute than a humans and so some some are even being trained to detect potentially life threatening medical conditions such as seizures and diabetes, as well as sniffing out diseases such as cancer.
Aside from designated therapeutic roles, there are numerous health benefits that come from owning a pet, including improved cardiovascular health and a reduced risk of asthma and allergic rhinitis in children exposed to pet allergens, as well as better overall physical and psychological wellbeing.
Owning a dog will mean that you exercise on a daily basis – and this isn’t exercise you can get out of doing, your dog needs to be walked regularly and so this in part produces the cardiovascular benefits and lowered blood pressures. Plus, it also increases your social interactions and produces a sense of connection with your community – which can improve mood and reduce stress levels. Likewise, if you live alone, pets can reduce feelings of loneliness while increasing feelings of responsibility and sense of purpose.
In fact, playing with your pet can raise levels of serotonin and dopamine and decrease cortisol and according to a study, people with pets live a happier, healthier and longer life.
Already considering adding a pet to your family and sold on the idea now you know the benefits that it can have on your health? First you need to consider which pet is best for you in your current circumstances – dogs like these ones, are the most beneficial but if you aren’t ready for the commitment, there are other less demanding animals, that will have just as many health benefits for you and your family.