Beneficial Pets - Why Animals Make Us Feel Good

Written by LISA ACHO REMORENKO - Independent.com
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According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 37 percent of households in the United States have a dog and 32 percent have a cat. Those who own pets know the feeling you get when a purring cat curls up in your lap or when a dog shakes his entire body to greet you when you walk through the door. Scientists are now validating what these pet owners already knew: having a pet makes you feel better.

Research has proven that pet owners have lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels; less stress, depression, and loneliness than those who don’t own pets. A study conducted at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, found that people feel better after watching a Lassie movie because of a drop in their cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress. And it’s not just cortisol that’s affected by animals. Patricia McConnell, a certified applied animal behaviorist, writes in her book For the Love of a Dog, that levels of oxytocin, a mood-affecting neurotransmitter and “feel-good” hormone in the brain, increase by simply petting a dog.

Cats also have health-sustaining effects on their owners. A 10-year study at the University of Minnesota showed that those who owned a cat were 40 percent less likely to die from heart attacks than those who had no feline in their lives. One skill that cats possess is their ability to purr. Though cats purr when they’re happy, some also purr when they are stressed as a way to calm themselves down. Not surprisingly, a purring cat soothes their human companions in the same way.

Many believe that interacting with animals represents a nonevaluative form of social support, especially for kids. A study from the University of Kansas followed children ages seven to 14 and found that if they lived with a pet their self-esteem and competence increased. For those who had serious chronic or even life-threatening illnesses, pets were even more important. In fact, the American Humane Association has recently launched a program called TASK — Therapy Animals Supporting Kids. The TASK Program encourages child welfare professionals to incorporate therapy animals into sessions with children who have been abused or neglected or have witnessed violence. According to the American Humane Association, “When children have suffered trauma, it is often difficult for them to speak of their experiences. Incorporating a therapy animal into the process can help a child open up and promote the healing process.” For more information on TASK, visit: http://www.americanhumane.org

Having a pet in your home is not only good for your mental health, it benefits your physical health as well. Pet owners are more likely to have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Experts find that cat and dog owners are more physically fit and spend more time outdoors and exercising. Alan Beck, director of Purdue University’s Center for the Human-Animal Bond, states that there are studies dating back to the 1980s that have shown drops in blood pressure when people interact with animals. “People talk to pets, do activities together, touch them, and let them stimulate their senses, all of which is relaxing.”

For those who unable to own a pet, the good news is that the mere presence of an animal without any interaction can have some calming effects. Buy a bird feeder and become a backyard bird watcher. Visit your local park and observe wildlife. Even turning on a nature show on television can have a calming effect.

Despite all these benefits, potential pet owners should consider more than their mental and physical health before adopting a pet. People should acquire a pet because they want the lifelong relationship; the added bonus is the physical and mental health benefits that come along with it. Pet ownership shouldn’t be entered into lightly as it is a big responsibility. Once you are ready for a pet, visit www.petfinder.com to find your local animal shelter or rescue group and adopt rather than shop for a pet. There are literally millions of homeless pets just waiting for the right person to come along. Stop by an animal shelter today and improve the life of a homeless pet as well as your own.

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