By Ray Chao
In a world of uncertainty, there is no doubt that your pet brings love and companionship into your life. Additionally, scientists are discovering that there are many health benefits associated with having pets. In fact, just as science is teaching us more about pet health and wellness, researchers are also learning more about the relationships we have with our pets, and the resulting health benefits.
Physical Benefits of Owning a Pet
Having a pet can require a lot of energy, especially with a puppy or kitten. As a result, pet owners are generally more physically active. According to the Harvard Medical School, having a dog keeps owners more active, and pet owners have been found to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to have high cholesterol levels.
Scientists have also found in a 13-year-long study that people with cats were less likely to die from a heart attack than people without a cat. More interestingly, the health benefits of having a cat extended beyond the time that people actually had a cat. This insight led the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkley to conclude that cats could be considered “preventative medicine.” While these results are based on correlational research, which means there are no direct causal links, most pet owners would agree that their pets make them feel better every single day.
Mental Well-Being Benefits of Owning a Pet
While there are many different reasons for getting a pet, one important reason is for companionship. Despite how many friends and family members you have, sometimes your best friend has four legs. Moreover, the bonds that humans form with animals are important, and often can be quite significant.
Numerous studies have found that when humans interacted with dogs, their bodies released oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, the neurochemicals that increase a person’s sense of well-being. This is one reason that therapy dogs are so successful for people with autism and PTSD. Scientists have also found that women’s brains exhibited the same type of pleasure response when shown pictures of their pets as when they were shown pictures of their children.
Benefits to Pets from the Human-Animal Bond
However, humans are not the only ones benefiting from these special relationships. Researchers have found that dogs can form close relationships with their owners, which are similar to mother-infant attachments. In one study, researchers found that oxytocin levels increased 130 percent in dogs when they looked at their owners. This may be why dogs seek contact with their owners when the dog is in need of comfort, safety or help. A neuroscientist at Emory University found that dogs’ brains respond to their owner’s voice in the same ways that human brains respond to pleasure. In another study, scientists found that some dogs preferred to interact with their owners over food.
Although there are fewer studies examining the bonds between cats and humans, there is growing research that suggest that cats do bond with humans but are simply less demonstrative of their affection than dogs. In fact, in one study, researchers found that cats preferred interacting with a human over eating or playing with a toy. Moreover, despite a reputation for being aloof, cats have been found to be responsive to human emotion and mood.
More broadly, pets provide companionship which helps improve quality of life and reduce depression. Also, having a pet can provide opportunities to socialize with other pet parents, and caring for a pet can provide a sense of purpose and daily routine.8 One study found that dogs not only experience distress when their owner is crying, but they actually try to help.
Researchers continue to learn more about the bonds we form with our dogs and cats, in order to better understand our pets and ourselves. So far, the science seems pretty clear that the relationships are very special and our pets provide us with many benefits. Not only do pets bring us happiness every day, but they help us maintain our physical and mental well-being. In return, we owe it to our loyal companions to ensure they are happy and healthy with a pet health insurance plan with Pets Best that will provide individualized protection to meet the needs of your pet.