French poet and novelist Anatole France once observed, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Any pet lover can wholeheartedly agree with France based on their own experiences. But beyond anecdotal evidence of how much pets contribute to the lives of their owners, there is plenty of scientific evidence that confirms that pets make people happier and improve their mental and physical health. Here are some findings.
A University of Miami study found that people who own pets are more conscientious, more social, have better self-esteem, and develop healthier relationship styles.
Research has proven that college students who live with a dog or a cat, or both, are less lonely and depressed. Children who live with both cats and dogs are more empathetic than children who live with only a cat or a dog, or neither. A University of Kansas study showed an increase in competence and self-esteem of children (aged 7-14) who lived with pets.
Another study demonstrated that workers who bring their dog to work exhibit less stress. The dog at the workplace also has benefits for nearby employees who experience greater satisfaction with their jobs.
A study confirmed the specific reasons that pets make people feel better. First, they grasp a person’s attention, offering a distraction that leads to relaxation. Second pets offer social support that reduces stress. Third, pets provide physical contact with another living creature that has positive benefits for the mind and body.
In a New York study, pet interaction reduced blood pressure better than medication. In a Swedish study, interaction with dogs reduced heart rate and levels of cortisol, the hormone linked with stress. Another study showed that people recovered from a stressful experience more quickly when a pet, rather than a spouse, was in a room. Other studies show that interaction with pets produces higher good cholesterol, reduces insomnia (and it helps if your pet doesn’t sleep with you and wake you up), and an increase in oxytocin, a mood-affecting neurotransmitter and feel-good hormone in a person’s brain.
63% of pet owners consider dogs to be family members. Dogs bring joy to people of every age through their enthusiastic and unconditional affection. Dogs help create memories and become an integral part of our livelihood as they grow from puppies to senior dogs. Since dogs live a relatively existential existence, living in the moment, they inspire humans to slow down and enjoy each moment. Finally, as research has indicated, they help people deal with stress and hardship.
People with pets are generally more physically fit since pet ownership requires spending time outdoors and exercising, e.g., walking the dog after work.
So who says dogs can’t teach old people new tricks?
For further reading: http://spacityvetrehab.com/new-patient-center/patient-resources/other-interests/item/21-beneficial-pets-why-animals-make-us-feel-good