If you are lucky enough to have a family pet you probably don’t need a scientific study to tell you that pets make you feel better.
Our pets give us unconditional love, and are sometimes the only other living thing we may have physical contact with in an entire day.
There is no feeling like the welcome you get when your pet hears you coming home home and belts towards the door.
Studies carried out over the years have suggested several ways in which pets help us to reduce stress.
- They lower blood pressure: Petting a dog or a cat, or even just having one close by can has been associated with a drop in blood pressure.
- They encourage us to exercise more often: Pet owners, on average, get more exercise than non pet owners. We know exercise can help reduce stress and improve our overall physical and mental wellbeing. The biggest effect is seen in dog owners who walk their dogs and spend more time outside playing with them but other animal owners also seem to get more exercise form interacting with their pets.
- They make us feel less lonely: Humans are social beings and like having company. An increasing number of us are living alone and loneliness is a common source of stress and a proven risk factor for early mortality. A study published in Aging and Mental Health states that older adults who owned pets were 36 % less likely to say they were lonely than those who didn’t have a furry friend. Pets provide companionship which decreases loneliness. Dog walkers also benefit from social interactions when out with their pets, whether that be walking in the street or in the park or out in one of the increasing number of dog friendly restaurants or bars.
- They help us live in the moment and ‘be present’. Worrying about the past and fearing the future are 2 major causes of stress. It has been shows that simple tasks such as interacting with or feeding your pet or playing catch with your dog can keep you engaged in the present moment and distract you from negative or stressful thoughts.
- They provide us with closeness and a source of physical interaction and touch. We know that physical touch is good for our health. Physical touch releases happy relaxing hormones such as oxytocin which helps alleviate stress. There are also studies that demonstrate reduce violence and increased feelings of trust in people who have increased opportunity to experience physical touch.
- A study from researchers in Miami and St Louis Universities found that pet owners had high levels of self esteem when compared with non pet owners. They were also notably less fearful and less pre occupied leading to decreased overall levels of stress.
- Many studies have linked laughter to a reduction in stress hormones. Pets can be a great source of entertainment and can increase the time we spend laughing.
- In a 2002 study at State University of New York at Buffalo researchers discovered that when people when given a stressful task they experienced lower levels of stress when accompanied by their pet than by a friend or family member.