It only takes a few minutes with a dog or cat or watching fish swim to feel calmer and less stressed. Your body actually goes through physical changes in that time that make a difference in your mood. The level of cortisol, a stress hormone, lowers. And serotonin, a feel-good chemical your body makes, rises.
Help Your Heart
People with cats and dogs may have some heart benefits. In a 20-year study, people who never owned a cat were 40% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who had. Another study found that dog owners had a better survival rate one year after a heart attack. Overall, pet owners are less likely to die of any cardiac disease, including heart failure.
Boost Your Fitness
If you have a dog, you’re probably more active than someone who doesn’t have one. A daily 30-minute walk with your pooch helps keep you moving. Two 15-minute walks, one in the morning and one in the evening, do the same thing. Add in a game of fetch in the back yard with your dog and you’ll be even more fit.
Fewer Allergies, Stronger Immunity
When children grow up in a home with a dog or cat they are less likely to develop allergies. The same is true for kids who live on a farm with large animals. Higher levels of certain immune system chemicals show a stronger immune system, which will help keep them healthy as they get older.
For people with diabetes, a sudden drop in the level of blood glucose can be very serious. Some dogs can alert their owner before it actually happens. They may sense chemical changes in the body that give off a scent. The alarm gives the owner time to eat a snack to avoid the emergency. About one in three dogs living with people with diabetes have this ability.
Partners in Better Cancer Care
Dogs and cats can get the same kinds of cancers humans do. For example, studies of prostate cancer in dogs have led to a better understanding of how it develops in older men. And preventing cancer in pets may lead to new strategies for people, too.
Autism: Addressing the Senses
Sensory issues are common among children with Autism Sensory Disorder. Sensory integration activities help them get used to the way something feels against their skin, and to certain smells or sounds. Dogs and horses have both sometimes been used in these activities. The children usually find it calming to work with animals. And animals can hold their attention.
They can help improve self-esteem
Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that pet owners exhibit stronger self-esteem than non-pet-owners. What’s more, pet owners are more extroverted and less fearful than people who don’t own pets.
. They can help reduce our negativity
Much like thinking about a friend might help you feel less negative after a bad social experience, thinking about a pet has been suggested to have the same effect.
In a study conducted on 97 pet owners (see the Psychology Today article cited above), participants were unknowingly subjected to a negative social experience. They were then asked to either write about their best friend, their pet or draw a map of their college campus (the control group).
This study showed that the participants who wrote about their pet or their best friend both showed zero negative feelings and were equally happy, even after the negative social experience. The control group, however, continued to exhibit negative feelings