- They have a physiological effect on the human body.
- Petting a dog stimulates the ‘love’ hormone, oxytocin. This hormone is linked to maternal attachment and social bonding. For example, there have been studies showing that the bond between an owner and their dog is similar to the bond between mother and child. This intense connection with a pet has been found to be incredibly helpful to an owner when going through times of crises as a pet can offer the emotional support needed. Having a pet also fulfils our basic need for touch as stroking a pet brings you sensory stress relief.
- Interacting with pets has a positive effect on stress-modulating hormones; they decrease levels of cortisol and increase levels of dopamine resulting in lower anxiety and improving mood, sleep, concentration and motor control respectively.
- They can lower blood pressure and slow heart rate.
2. They lower the risk of depression in people of all ages
Studies show that pets can be an opportunity for bonding within a family. A family pet can be very beneficial for all members of a family as they provide a source of comfort and friendship. In children, a pet can teach them the responsibility of caring for a living creature. In adults, pets can lower stress and be very comforting when experiencing feelings of insecurity. Lastly, pets can be very impactful in relieving feelings of loneliness and can be a valuable companion later in life, providing their owner with a sense of security.
3. They can be a highly effective form of therapy
Pet or animal therapy has been shown to be very effective in hospitals, prisons and care homes. From horses to guinea pigs, animal therapy alongside other therapeutic mediums such as psychotherapy can be very effective for a range of conditions such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism spectrum disorder. Interacting with animals has a positive physiological effect on humans as shown in the first point, but many animals are also highly empathetic creatures; they understand how a human is feeling so can offer them the comfort and support that the patient needs.
4. They are a form of self care
- Taking care of an animal by walking it and playing with it can be a form of physical exercise which undoubtedly has many benefits. A study in the Social Science & Medical Journal examines the link between physical and mental health. In its findings, it discovered that having regular physical exercise (even going for a 10 minute walk) and taking care of your physical health is the most effective thing you can do to improve mental health.
- Having a pet also adds structure to your day as animals, especially dogs, need regular exercise and feeding. No matter how you feel – depressed, worried or anxious – when you have a pet and you know they’re hungry or need some attention, you’ll give it to them because of the attachment you have to them as mentioned above.
5. They bring joy
I’m sure you’ll agree that every pet has their own quirks, some dogs chase their tails, some cats jump when they see a cucumber, some dogs act like cats and some cats act like dogs. Every animal has a unique personality that you get to know as you raise them. It is quite literally like having a friend; they can comfort you when you’re sick, make you laugh when you’re feeling sad and just generally support you in any way you need.