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Let’s talk about the perks of having a pet. Did you know that having a pet in your home has some pretty extraordinary benefits for mental health and wellness? Healthy, happy pets lead to healthy, happy people. Take a look at how pets make your life better. 

How Pets Make Us Healthier

It’s not just lip service to say that dogs and cats hold extraordinary value in our lives. There are many documented physical benefits to having a pet. In one study that looked at the lives of 3.4 million people, researchers found that having a dog is linked with a longer life. It turns out that sharing your life with a dog is especially beneficial for heart health. Here are some details:

  • Dog parents were found to have a lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than people without dogs.
  • The overall risk of death from all other causes was also lower.
  • The benefits of having a dog appear to be exceptionally high for people who live alone.
  • Among people who lived alone with a dog, the risk of death was reduced by 33%.
  • The risk of cardiovascular disease was 11% lower among those who lived alone with a dog.

The lifetime health benefits of having a pet can start when we’re very young. Research shows that exposure to pets from a young age is linked to lower asthma rates in children. In fact, the risk of developing asthma was 52% lower in school-aged children from households with pets.

It’s clear to see that pets help to improve so many different facets of human health. In addition to helping us to live longer, they also increase the enjoyment of life. Let’s take a look at how pets help our mental health.  

Pets and Mental Health

“Perhaps one of the greatest psychological benefits of interacting with a dog is the opportunity it provides to be more mindful,” according to a recently published Harvard article. Pets help us to learn how to be in the moment by being in the moment themselves. When we spend time with a pet, we’re in the company of a soul who has no concern for all of the stresses and responsibilities of life. They invite us to step into their world of leisure and loyalty.

Are pets good for anxiety? 

Absolutely! Pet parenthood is seen as a way to alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and social isolation. One study from 2016 found that the routine, security, and emotional support that pet parenthood brings helps people successfully manage long-term mental health problems.

Do Pets Know When You’re Sad?

There’s some pretty strong evidence to suggest that pets are intuitive enough to know when their owners are feeling down. According to researchers, dogs can recognize human emotions. Most animal researchers agree that dogs have a level of emotional intelligence that equals a human toddler. Dogs have been shown to display submissive body language when in the presence of a crying owner. Dogs even have their own way of showing empathy. Here are some ways to know that your dog knows you need a hug:

  • Dogs will comfort you by placing their heads in your lap, placing their paws on you, or gently licking you.
  • Dogs may provide comfort by giving you space until they can observe that you’re ready to interact again.
  • Dogs sometimes try to shake you out of a bad mood by initiating play! A grimace or string of teardrops may evoke your dog’s desire to drop a ball or leash at your feet!

While cats can sometimes have a reputation for being slightly uncaring, evidence suggests that they are very aware of’ moods. In one study featuring 12 cats and their guardians, researchers found that cats responded to their guardian’s emotional cues with specific behaviors. When the guardian smiled, cats were more likely to react by purring, rubbing, or snuggling up next to them. It appears that cats can know what we’re thinking just by looking at our faces.

Getting a Pet as a Wellness Companion

Pets are therapeutic. While giving pets love is often all the satisfaction any of us could ever need, we also benefit from the love that pets throw right back at us. This can mean the world for people struggling with mental health issues.  

Bringing a Companion Home: Things to Consider When Choosing a Pet to Boost Your Health, Wellness, and Quality of Life

A pet can be an excellent addition to curb loneliness. What is the best pet for a lonely person? There are several factors to consider. For some people, a large and active dog is just the thing for someone that needs to have a reason to get outside every day because the dog will love long walks. Other people prefer a cuddle partner who will stay indoors with them, so a small dog or cat might be better suited. The key to finding the best pet for loneliness is to choose a pet with needs that match your ability to provide care and interaction. Beyond that, finding a pet that is your perfect “personality” match can be an engaging and important final step in the process. 

Bio Card 1 - Cate Lemmond