Dr. Dog (or Cat…) will see you now. The many benefits of having animals in your life.
Is there anything more adorable than a puppy or kitten? But beyond being cute and cuddly, pets can serve a very important function in our lives from companionship to teaching responsibility and empathy to children, to improving our physical health and mental health. And it’s not just dogs and cats, either!
Studies have shown that “animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood1”. There’s something very comforting about knowing that your pet will always be there for you, never judge you and listen to everything you have to say with rapt attention no matter how long you chatter on. In fact, the longer you talk and sit with them, the happier they are.
Teaching responsibility and empathy
Has there ever been a child who has not begged their parent for a pet? Dog…cat…hamster…goldfish? It doesn’t matter. Kids want pets, but did you know that having a pet is also a great way to teach your child about responsibility and encourage empathy? Pets are living, breathing creatures with varying levels of needs. A goldfish is good for a very young child who can manage the easy feeding schedule and can help clean the bowl. Older children can take on the responsibility of a more demanding animal like a cat or dog. Feeding, brushing, cleaning litter boxes, or going for regular walks are all ways that children learn to be responsible for another living being.
Caring for another living being is also a good way to encourage and develop empathy in children. Like all living creatures, animals like dogs and cats can be scared and experience pain. Having a pet, especially as it ages, allows children to understand how others feel and how they can be a source of comfort.
Improving our health and mental health
Dogs, for example, require multiple daily walks and exercise, so having a dog practically forces you to at least be active every single day. And let’s not forget about fish. Watching fish can have such a calming effect that it’s not uncommon to see an aquarium in high stress places like a dental office. In fact, “interacting with animals has been shown to decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure.1”
Plus… Studies have also demonstrated that dogs, in particular, “reduce stress, anxiety and depression; ease loneliness; encourage exercise and improve your overall health. …Just playing with a dog has been shown to raise levels of the feel-good brain chemicals oxytocin and dopamine, creating positive feelings and bonding for both the person and their pet.2”
There is little doubt that interacting with most animals can have positive and lasting effects. But, if having a pet just doesn’t work with your lifestyle or schedule, you can still reap the benefits of having an animal in your life provides by visiting a local animal sanctuary or animal shelter and volunteer to walk the animals or just play with them while they await their forever homes.
This article is intended for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice, nor is it a substitute for advice from a qualified professional.
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