Four Legged Stress Relief

 

This article was written for Pet Guardian Angels of America by Sasha McGregor

We all know that owning a pet can be a rewarding and challenging experience. Your pet makes you laugh, it destroys your favorite pair of shoes, it makes you laugh again, and the cycle continues. What fewer people know, however, is the proven health benefits of pet ownership. That’s right–your cat, dog, or canary isn’t just a roommate, but a health boost. Read on to learn
more about how your pet is helping you without either of you realizing it.

Pets alleviate loneliness

Most pet owners can vouch that having an animal around decreases loneliness, but few people consider loneliness as dangerous as science believes it might be. At our core, humans are social animals, and being alone for too long can have profound health effects. Chronically lonely people report higher rates of stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, obesity, and depression. Incredibly, chronic loneliness can be as damaging to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Your pets can help. While it isn’t the same as human interaction, sharing a living space with an animal creates a social bond, and can help ward off or reduce feelings of loneliness and the problems that accompany them. The idea that you and another living thing have a bond and depend on one another can be a strong motivator, and can bring about happiness and a sense of purpose instead of loneliness.

Similarly, pets can be a great help for children who have social difficulties, including autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. For these children, socializing with animals can be a very effective precursor to later interactions with people.

Pets reduce stress

Everyone has their techniques to control stress. I don’t need a pet to keep from getting stressed,you might be thinking. I already have yoga, or Netflix, or Utah Jazz news updates to keep me cool and collected. But pets can lower your stress in surprising ways, and not just in half-hour increments. In one surprising study, it was found that pets can be more effective at lowering blood pressure than some medications!

One crucial way that pets can reduce stress is by encouraging exercise. Pet owners (particularly dog owners) have been shown to exercise more frequently, and in longer intervals, than non-pet owners. Exercise is a proven stress reliever, as well as providing countless other health benefits. Now when your dog is begging for a walk and giving you the ol’ puppy-dog eyes, you can think of it as though he or she is really doing it for your own benefit.

Pets can offer preventative care

In a conglomeration of the benefits we’ve described above, pets can help prevent a few different serious health problems before they materialize. Pet owners, cat owners in particular, are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack, and 40 percent less likely to have cardiovascular incidents, like a stroke. Pets can also help you recover from incidents like these – dog owners are more likely to be alive a year after a heart attack. Pets have also been shown to help prevent children from developing allergies. Being raised alongside animals can provide children with natural immunities to dander-based allergies, which can result in healthier children.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work quite the same way for adults–an adult with allergies won’t reap the same benefits as a child.

Pet owners also tend to have lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which relates to the lower rates of heart attacks and strokes. Of course, it’s important to remember that this particular statistic might be correlation rather than causation; it might be that healthier people tend to adopt pets rather than adopting pets makes people healthier. That said, it’s hard to deny the many positive effects of pet ownership, and the ones listed here are just a few! If you’ve been looking for a reason to cherish your pet a little more today, hopefully we’ve been able to provide you with at least three.

Sasha McGregor is a part-time freelance writer and full-time educator.