How Pets Support Our Health
by Kelly Merritt
“I love you, no matter what.”
“You are my everything.”
Animals say these things to us with every wagging tail and loving snuggle they share. The ways pets benefit our well-being are immeasurable. And in these strange and challenging times when isolation can get the best of us, sometimes, pets are all we need to feel better. They let us know they care. For some folks, they are all that stands between happiness and despair.
Pets quiet negative self-talk. They are the perfect end to imperfect days. To come home to a creature for whom you are his whole world takes the focus off silly human problems. No one knows that better than Loni Edwards, CEO and founder of The Dog Agency. A lawyer turned pet-trepreneur, Edwards is in the business of joy – hers is the first talent management agency to focus on pet influencers.
“Pets are the ultimate companions, loving unconditionally, making us laugh when we need to, and keeping us on our toes,” says Edwards. “Countless studies have shown that spending time with pets reduces stress levels, eases feelings of loneliness, and releases endorphins while improving our overall health.”
The benefits of having a pet aren’t limited to cats or dogs. Equines, domestic birds, livestock pets and everything in between all see their human caregivers as leaders of a very special pack. All deliver the same overall health and mental wellness perks.
Pets are Healers
Edwards’ belief that pets keep us active is echoed in study after study. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that just a few of the many physical benefits of pet ownership include decreased blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, plus they provide more opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities. Dogs in particular love a good walk, not to mention the calming effect walking has on their owners. Even as far back as 1990, a Siegel study revealed that Medicare patients with pets had fewer physician visits than patients without pets.
Pets can even predict emergent medical conditions and be an integral part of treatment plans. Sniffing in parts per trillion, several studies have proven dogs’ ability to detect disease. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that pets can ease anxiety and help sufferers develop empathy.
Pets are Spiritual Salve
Pets can sense when we’re troubled. They react to human emotions and are a mirror of what we’re thinking or feeling. Pet owners who have ever yelled at the television or yelped after stubbing a toe can relate to their pets’ concerned reactions. The act of caring for pets, as Edwards says, gives us a sense of purpose and meaning.
“Humans and animals evolved together over time – the relationship started as a working relationship and has evolved to an emotional one where people are waiting longer to have kids and treating their pets as their children,” says Edwards, who created PetCon, an event for pets and the people who love them. “The resulting human-animal bond is a deeply rooted one that continues to strengthen and develop, providing countless benefits to both humans and pets, allowing them both to thrive.”
At PetCon, attendees can meet and greet celebrity pets, attend expert panels and find forever friends in the dog adoption garden. The act of adopting a pet, especially older animals or those with special needs is in itself therapeutic.
For people who can’t own pets, there are ways to benefit by association. Organizations like Pet Partners have therapy animal programs on the cutting edge of animal-assisted intervention, helping heal veterans with PTSD, Alzheimer’s patients, literacy challenged youth, in substance abuse recovery, to help with intellectual disabilities and comfort during end of life care.
Finally, research published by the American Psychological Association revealed that pet owners fared better in well-being outcomes than non-owners on several dimensions. According to lead researcher Allen R. McConnell, PhD, pet owners had greater self-esteem and were more physically fit, less lonely and more conscientious.
Pets may be a labor of love, but they nurture the soul. Like a salve for the heart, they heal our human wounds, guide us and teach us to be better people. Visit your local animal shelter today—you’ll be glad you did.