Having a pet at home can make you feel happier and less stressed. Pets can also help improve your heart health and help children with their social and emotional skills.
About 68% of homes in the United States have a pet. But which type of pet is best for your health? Scientists are still trying to figure that out by doing research studies on different types of animals, from fish to guinea pigs to dogs and cats.
Pets can provide an immense amount of emotional support, companionship, and practical benefits to their owners. Studies have shown that pet ownership can alleviate stress, depression, and anxiety while also improving mood and promoting socialization. In short, pets can have a significant positive impact on mental health.
It's believed that animals help people feel connected in ways that human interactions don't. Pets offer unconditional love and acceptance without judgment—something that humans often struggle to find in life. By providing consistency, comfort, and physical affection without the need for words, pets can be powerful tools for healing.
The act of caring for a pet has been found to be beneficial for mental health as well. The sense of responsibility that comes with taking care of another living being is known to reduce stress levels, increase feelings of self-worth and ultimately improve overall psychological wellbeing. Additionally, simply being around animals can reduce the production of cortisol—a hormone associated with stress—in the body.
Pets also encourage outdoor activity which itself has numerous benefits including increased sunlight exposure which helps regulate hormones related to sleep patterns as well as increasing serotonin levels which contribute to improved moods. Engaging in outdoor activities such as walking a dog or playing with cats outside also provides people with more time away from electronic screens which are known to increase depression and anxiety symptoms when used too much or excessively.
Furthermore, studies suggest that having a pet may lead to better cardiovascular health due to increased levels of physical activity associated with pet ownership as well as reduced stress-related hormones like cortisol impacting heart rate patterns and reducing inflammation throughout the body. All these factors combine to create an environment where both physical health and mental health can flourish leading to better overall wellbeing all around!
Pet’s Are a Kid’s Best Friend?
Dogs may help children in school too. One study found that dogs can help children with ADHD focus their attention. Researchers put two groups of kids diagnosed with ADHD into 12-week group therapy sessions. The first group of kids read to a therapy dog once a week for 30 minutes. The second group read to puppets that looked like dogs.
Kids who read to the real animals showed better social skills and more sharing, cooperation, and volunteering. They also had fewer behavioral problems.
Some children feel better when they are around animals. In one study, children with autism spectrum disorder were calmer while playing with guinea pigs in the classroom. When the children spent 10 minutes in a supervised group playtime with guinea pigs, their anxiety levels dropped. The children also had better social interactions and were more engaged with their peers. The researchers suggest that the animals offered unconditional acceptance, making them a calm comfort to the children.
“Animals can become a way of building a bridge for those social interactions,” says Dr. James Griffin, a child development expert at NIH. He adds that researchers are trying to better understand these effects and who they might help.
A recent study showed that caring for fish helped teens with diabetes better manage their disease. Researchers had a group of teens with type 1 diabetes care for a pet fish twice a day by feeding and checking water levels. The caretaking routine also included changing the tank water each week. This was paired with the children reviewing their blood glucose (blood sugar) logs with their parents. Researchers tracked how consistently these teens checked their blood glucose. Compared with teens who weren’t given a fish to care for, fish-keeping teens were more disciplined about checking their own blood glucose levels, which is essential for maintaining their health.
Things to Consider
While pets may offer some health benefits, they are not right for everyone. Some studies suggest that being exposed to pets at a young age may help protect children from developing allergies or asthma. However, for people who are allergic to certain animals, having a pet in the home can make their condition worse.
When you own a pet, you also have new responsibilities, such as knowing how to care for and feed the animal. The NIH (National Institutes of Health) and Mars Company fund studies that look into the effects of human-animal interactions on both the pet and the person.
Remember that animals can feel stressed and fatigued just like humans can. It’s important for kids to be able to recognize signs of stress in their pet and know when not to approach it. Animal bites can cause serious harm."Parents need to think about preventing dog bites, especially for young children who might not know when they're being too rough with a dog," says Dr. Layla Esposito, who oversees NIH’s Human-Animal Interaction Research Program. Researchers will keep studying the health effects of having a pet. "We want to know what's working and what's not working, and what's safe for both humans and animals," Esposito says.
Hicklin, T., Piazza, G. (2018). The power of pets health benefits of human-animal interactions. NIH News In Health, 1-2. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/02/power-pets