When you are lucky enough to share your life with a pet—or two, or a few—you know how strong the bond is between you and your pet. And how you can’t imagine your life without them.
Some scientists claim there may be a reason for that. It seems our affinity for animals is as old as our planet. Evidence suggests that people have had relationships with pets in numerous cultures worldwide for thousands of years. It seems the bond between pets and humans is ancient and enduring.
Not surprisingly, pets are important to our health and wellbeing. Our friends and confidantes, scientific evidence has demonstrated the benefits of pets in almost every aspect of our lives, from childhood through old age.
Living in the Physical World
Children who’ve grown up with pets in the home are less likely to miss school due to illness and less likely to develop certain allergic reactions later in life. Scientists think it’s because they’ve been “primed” to certain allergens.
Adults who have pets are better able to deal with everyday stress. The presence of animals has been shown to reduce stress for both children and adults, which can have an immediate positive effect on heart rate and blood pressure. In studies, people who live w ith pets have been shown to have a lower baseline heart rate and blood pressure.
Of course, there is another physical aspect pets can help improve: fitness. Dogs, especially, are great catalysts for greater physical activity. Pets help children and adults stay active.
Helping Children Grow and Learn
Research has shown that children often look upon pets as friends and confidantes, someone they can trust with their deepest feelings. This is especially helpful for children of divorce, for whom pets can be anxiety buffers, offering them comfort and support.
Children who are the only child also benefit from having a pet. And even children who have older siblings, but not younger, have been shown to flourish by having a pet, helping them develop empathy for others. Kids have even demonstrated better learning in school when a pet is present in the classroom.
Social Support at All Ages
Other studies have shown interaction between pets and people often leads to a peak in oxytocin, a “feel-good” hormone that may suppress the production of the stress hormone, cortisol.
Pets offer comfort and companionship to the elderly, too. Senior citizens often lose many of their social interactions with friends and co-workers. The networks of friendships and work relationships, acquaintances, and casual meetings—at the gym, eating out, or shopping—are the glue that holds a community together. High levels of what scientists call “social capital” have shown lower mortality rates and better general health for a community’s population.
According to one study, older people who had few social contacts, but reported a strong attachment to their pet(s) reported fewer recent illnesses. Caring for a pet can give elderly people a sense of purpose and help them feel needed.
Good for You!
Early studies are revealing to scientists that the interaction between people with dogs, and cats, results in tangible benefits for humans. That pets may promote better health for us both physically and psychologically, support child development, help children learn in the classroom, and more.
So go ahead, enjoy your pets. Make more time to walk your dog. Find time to play games with your cat. And know that the good feelings you get from spending time together may be doing your body and your mind good, too.
Source: WALTHAM® Pocket Book of Human-Animal Interactions