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Being a mom to my fur baby, a two-year-old (will be turning three soon) Shih-Tzu named Asher, fills me with happiness on a daily basis.
If you have ever bonded with a pet, it is probably no surprise that researchers are finding evidence that animals make a positive impact on our lives. There are so many reasons why animals and the relationships they have with us are amazing, but there is something else about animals that is just wonderful, and that is the effect that they have on our health both physically and mentally.
How Pets Can Improve Our Physical Health
As if we need more reasons to cuddle with our furry friends, scientists suggest that having a dog may increase human health and longevity.
Therapy dogs have been proven to reduce the stress in students taking exams, people grieving the loss of a loved one, and children in the hospital. Stress releases cortisol into your bloodstream, a hormone that can cause all sorts of negative impacts on your body. Petting dogs has been shown to decrease the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream.
People who own dogs walk more than people who don’t, which helps to prevent obesity and the health risks that are associated with that. Walking your dog during the day has the added benefit of getting Vitamin D from the sun, and a lack of sunlight has been proven to have a negative effect on people’s mental state.
Growing up with a dog has also been shown to reduce allergies in children by giving their immune system something harmless to practice on. One study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that exposure to dogs and farm animals during the first year of a child’s life decreased their risk of developing asthma and certain allergies by the age of six.
Having a dog can also reduce your blood pressure and the chances of dying from one. The companionship provided by a dog can also reduce levels of anxiety.
How Pets Can Improve Our Mental Health
There are reasons why we refer to dogs as man’s best friend. Did you know that just petting a dog can impact your brain? Studies have found that petting or playing with a dog or a cat releases serotonin and dopamine, two feel good chemicals that can improve your mood. Serotonin and dopamine levels are often low in people who suffer from depression.
Scientific studies around pets and mental health have shown that just after 5 minutes of interacting with a pet, the stress related hormone begins to reduce.
In addition to providing unconditional love and support, owning a pet also increases the chances that you will engage with people in your community and form meaningful friendships. According to research, roughly 40% of pet owners reported receiving social support from people they met through their pets.
Pets can also teach us a lot about life. We lost our previous dog Conner (who was also a Shih-Tzu) to kidney failure close to 3 years ago. It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences in our lives, but it was also the most beautiful. During Conner’s time on earth, he was one of the happiest and joyful dogs you could be around, and he was loving to everyone. His passing forced me to confront the shortness of life and encouraged me to be a little bit more mindful and grateful.