February 20 is Love Your Pet Day, and while it’s nice to have an extra excuse to show our furry friends some love, most pet owners don’t need to be reminded to love their honorary family members. But did you know that having a pet could improve your mental and physical health?
Being responsible for an animal’s well-being can provide a sense of self-worth and purpose. Caring for another living thing helps us feel needed and reduces loneliness.
Playing with a pet raises the levels of serotonin and dopamine in our brains. These hormones calm and relax the nervous system.
According to the National Institutes of Health, interacting with animals has been shown to chemically decrease stress by lowering a person’s blood pressure and their levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, while releasing a natural stress reducer: oxytocin.
Animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost our mood.
According to a 10 year study of more than 4,000 Americans by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Institute in Minneapolis, owning a cat could reduce your risk of a heart attack by nearly one third!
Pets help us live in the moment. Seeing a pet play and live carefree can help us be more mindful and present in the moment.
Sometimes, people are able to confide in their pets when they are unable to open up to other people. Although this should not be used as a replacement for counseling sessions, it can be therapeutic in it’s own way by allowing us to talk through our feelings and problems without fear of judgment or interruption.
The effects go beyond your relationship with your pet, too! Pet ownership also impacts relationships with other people. Having a pet provides another topic to bond over with other people. Talking to other people about your pets can strengthen friendships and open new opportunities to socialize. These social encounters and friendships provide an extended support network for those struggling with their mental health. Dogs especially provide new ways to meet and talk to people, whether you are taking them for a walk or visiting a dog park.
Speaking of taking your dog for a walk, having a pet can increase your physical activity, causing your body to release more endorphins! Exercise improves your physical health, but it also works chemically within your brain to improve your mental health.
Although pet ownership cannot solve all of our problems, animal-human relationships can work as part of a holistic plan to improve our lives emotionally, mentally, physically, and socially. Show the pets in your lives a little extra love today in appreciation of all that they do for us!