WRITTEN BY JEANINE MATLOW
With a great pet comes great responsibility. But as most pet owners would agree, animal friends are well worth the effort. Whether you have a live-in dog, cat, bird, rabbit, or fish—or something more exotic or farm friendly—pets provide candor to everyday life and help you appreciate the simple things.
It’s no secret that pets make terrific companions and have the ability to brighten your day with their sunny dispositions and console you with their unconditional love. So, it should come as no surprise that actual scientific research has shown pets can be beneficial to your physical and mental health. Their attention and dedication with no hidden agenda (save wanting a cookie, perhaps) can put your mind and body at ease, which may be why therapy pets have become more prevalent in hospitals and cancer centers. Animals are introduced to simply sit with the patient for companionship and connection. (Studies show some dogs may have the ability to detect cancer by scent, leading to early detection, too.) Specially trained dogs also visit other public settings, such as libraries, where kids can practice reading to a captive audience. Programs like these demonstrate the strong bond between people and pets.
For youth, caring for different species—from hamsters to horses— can have a lasting effect. In addition to the therapeutic qualities of animals, the responsibility of taking care of them can be great practice for future parents. The experience provides the perfect training for prioritizing others who are dependent on you for their survival.
Happiness and health aren’t all in your head. Pets have been said to be good for your physical heart health, too. According to the American Heart Association, owning a pet, particularly a dog, may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Their findings point to evidence that people with pets tend to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and are less likely to be obese. Because dogs are more likely to get you outside for a walk, a run, or a bike ride, they can help get your heart pumping and energize you too. Taking a canine out every day may help keep the doctor away. According to Anthrozoös, a multidisciplinary journal of the interactions of people and animals, older homebound adults with cats or dogs have better executive function, which includes remembering details, paying attention, and other important daily skills.
Because an organic connection to pets makes them feel like family members, this pure pairing could also improve your social skills. As furry friends show you how to love without limits and empathize with others, you can transfer those behaviors to other relationships. Even those who may struggle with social interactions, like autistic children, may benefit from having a household pet for comfort and companionship.
Those with physical and mental disabilities can also form a special bond with their pets. Long before emotional-support animals accompanied passengers on planes, guide dogs for the visually impaired and those trained to help people with conditions like PTSD were changing the quality of life for many. Prison programs that allow inmates to train dogs who are difficult to adopt out and service dogs are said to be beneficial for all the people and the misplaced pets.
Although service dogs are trained to help reduce stress and anxiety, most pets do that naturally. Early exposure to pets may prevent the development of certain allergies. Assuming you don’t have any pet allergies at the time, consider curling up with your docile pet for a better night’s sleep. Research has shown that sharing a bed with them can be a boon for restful sleep—just be mindful of potential germs or diseases the species may carry.
Anyone who has ever watched a YouTube video gone viral knows how easy it is for animals to make everyone laugh with their natural ability to entertain. Whether it’s their dogged determination to claim some “people” food or their inquisitive nature with another species, there’s always a little mischief or fun to be found whenever they’re around.
One of the hardest parts of pet ownership comes with the knowledge that most domestic pets have a shorter life span than their human companions. However long they linger, their teachings are not lost. From being a constant companion to helping you see the world through rose-colored glasses, there are endless perks to having a pet. Furry (or scaly or feathery) friends are like round-the-clock life coaches that can show you the way to a happier, healthier existence.