Psst, here’s a secret… a dose of Fido a day keeps the doctor away.
An apple a day does the trick, too, but when was the last time an apple greeted you at the door with nothing but smiles and kisses after you came home from a long and hard day at work?
Have you ever met an apple that found the utmost satisfaction in curling up against you and purring until it fell asleep? (If you have, it’d be a good idea to put on a biohazard suit before touching the apple.) Ultimately, could an apple give unconditional love?
Animal companionship dates back as far as 12,000 years, yet it wasn’t until this century that the scientific community started to pay attention to the health benefits of having pets.
Even though this field of research is still in its infancy, a growing body of published scientific research shows that taking care of a pet, especially cats and dogs, improves our mind, body, and soul.
Samuel Butler, a British novelist from the 19th century, once wrote, “All of the animals except for man know that the principle business of life is to enjoy it.”
Who could blame dogs for frolicking in the grass without a care in the world, or hamsters for clinging onto their spinning wheel while pretending to be astronauts in training?
Animals don’t need to worry about paying their electricity bill on time, changing the oil in their car, keeping the house clean for dinner guests, and countless other daily plights that plague the human mind.
Instead, pets’ instinctive nature allows them to focus on the necessities: food, water, shelter, and keeping their human companions happy. Unlike most of us who have to work day in and day out to put a smile on our bosses’ face, pets help us in so many different ways just by coexisting with us.
1. Pets help beat loneliness.
Not only do Fido and Fluffy provide companionship and comfortable silences, but they also help their owners become more sociable with other people.
Several studies have shown that walking with a dog leads people to have more conversations, thus helping them develop new friendships. Some nursing homes have a pet therapy program, where trained dogs come in and keep the patients company. As a result, most patients increase their verbal and social interaction, and they’re able to reach out to the world around them once again.
People who maintain healthy social relationships tend to live longer, and are less likely to face mental and physical deterioration.
2. Pets calm our minds.
Fish may swim around in their aquariums without any regard to their human observers from the other side of the glass, but, unbeknownst to them, they are actually performing hypnosis.
Many studies over the past 25 years have concluded that gazing at aquarium fish reduces stress, insomnia, and high blood pressure.
Furry animals also contribute to lowering humans’ blood pressure by just letting humans pet them. The University of Pennsylvania did a study in 1980 that revealed that people’s blood pressure, respiration, and heat rates increased when they came in contact with other people, but when they touched a friendly animal, their blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate dropped to a healthy level.
Maybe it’s time to call Fido over and play fetch with your stress ball!
3. Pets make us exercise.
Forget the gym. Take Fido out on a walk.
Several studies show that dogs can be great motivators to get people out of the house and enjoy the great outdoors. Not only do most dog owners walk on a regular basis, they are more physically active than people who don’t have dogs. Dog owners are also less likely to become obese.
A 2010 study by the University of Missouri revealed that dogs are better walking companions than humans are, mainly because their endless supply of energy enables them to move faster, forcing their human exercise buddies to increase their walking speed.
4. Pets enhance our compassion for others.
Most pet owners believe their pets help improve relationships between family members in the household. Because pets need love and attention, family members are forced to work together to provide them the care they need. Children with pets at home score significantly higher on empathy and pro-social scales than children without pets.
5. Pets increase our self-esteem.
Humans are the only species who judge each other. Animals don’t even grasp the concept of evaluating others on a non-instinctual level.
You could tell your pet rabbit that you are a huge Creed fan, and he would just look at you sweetly as you proceeded to rattle off your favorite Creed lyrics. Many breast cancer patients have admitted that they preferred to keep therapy dogs at their bedside rather than humans, because dogs did not pass any judgment on the patients’ declining health.
Some research suggests that children with difficulty communicating their feelings often turn to their pets first before talking to anyone else. They view their pets as a source of comfort and empathy. Pets are great listeners, and they have the ability to make their owners feel better instantly without uttering a sound.
Dr. Sandra Barker, director of the Center for Human-Animal Interaction at Virginia Commonweatlh University, believes that we are “just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we know about the human-animal bond and its potential health benefits.”
Give Fido that extra treat, and let Fluffy scratch the chair a bit longer. They deserve it.