Have you been thinking about adopting a dog or cat? Whether your new friend will be coming from a shelter, rescue group or home-based preservation breeder, you may be surprised at how having a pet can enrich your life, both physically and emotionally. Let me count the ways.
1. We become more physically active. Walking a dog, playing fetch with him, or luring your cat with a teaser toy gets you moving. (Okay, the latter can be done from the sofa, but the physical and social interaction is good for your cat’s physical health and your emotional health.) You might beg off a walk or a visit to the gym with a human friend, but your dog will never let you get away with that.
2. We laugh more. It’s true that laughter is the best medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies have shown that the benefits of laughter include stimulation of the heart, lungs and muscles, an improved immune system, and muscle relaxation—to name just a few! My pets make me laugh every day, and I feel better for it.
3. We build relationships. You might nod or wave to a neighbor or stranger if you pass by them, but if you have a dog with you, you’re more likely to stop and have a conversation. In my experience, pets are the cure for the common cold shoulder. Only the most hard-hearted people can resist stopping to visit with a dog—and a fellow dog lover.
4. We experience fewer effects of stress in our lives or are better able to cope with it. When we pet a dog or cat, our bodies surge with the hormones prolactin and oxytocin, lowering blood pressure and reducing the tensions that make our neck and shoulders stiff and give us headaches. The presence of a pet has also been found to elevate levels of the hormones serotonin and dopamine, which help relieve depression. The pet doesn’t have to be a dog or cat to bring benefits. Simply watching fish swim in an aquarium can result in a feeling of calmness, too.
5. We have better health. Children who grow up with pets in the home have a decreased incidence of allergies, asthma and eczema. Some studies have shown that interacting with a pet decreases levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, and that living with a pet is associated with lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides. In the latter case, those differences weren’t explained by body mass, whether or not the person smoked, or diet. A study published in September 2019 in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that dog owners were more likely to have better heart health and that the presence of a dog in the home increases survivability after a heart attack. Living with a cat decreases the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. And many pets guard their people’s health by alerting them to conditions such as low blood sugar or impending seizures.
From our hearts to our heads, pets help us live happier, healthier, fuller lives.
About Dr. Becker: Dr. Marty Becker, a coauthor of “From Fearful to Fear Free”, has been a companion animal veterinarian for more than 30 years. He lives surrounded by wildlife on Almost Heaven Ranch in