Unconditional love, companionship, and laughter.
These are just a few of the many benefits that pets of all kinds have the ability to offer people. As humans, we are drawn to pets because we crave connection and friendship, and having a pet to rely on increases well-being. This fact has been proven by science and continues to be studied as the human/pet relationship evolves. The study of human and animal interaction is known as “anthrozoology,” and it has been studied extensively for more than 35 years. Besides companionship, pets have the ability to impact our physical and mental health in a positive way.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 68% of American households own a pet. A big part of that is the benefits pets have on mood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, pets can play a large role in decreasing feelings of loneliness for people.
Pets have evolved to naturally be attuned to the emotions we feel. Dogs are especially good at picking up on the moments when people are feeling sad. Have you ever been around a dog while you are crying? You may have noticed that the dog tries to comfort you. This is because dogs are keenly aware of not only the sound of crying but our body language.
Pets, especially dogs, also help us get more exercise. Dogs need to be walked and exercised regularly, which helps people get exercise, too! Exercise contributes to not only physical health but also improves mood.
Plus, the fresh air and spending time outdoors helps us feel relaxed and get adequate doses of Vitamin D.
And you don’t just have to take your dog for a walk. If you’re very active, you can run with your dog, hike, or get involved in agility training.
In addition to exercise, walking a dog usually leads to conversations with dog owners and people who simply love dogs. Pets provide an instant icebreaker! This helps people stay social and maintain connections with other people. This is especially important for people who tend to withdraw from socializing. This tends to occur more with introverts, but staying social and maintaining friendships and social relationships is essential to mental health. Places to meet other people with your pet include:
- Training classes – puppy class or training classes
- Dog parks
- Dog-friendly events, like 5Ks
- Breed clubs
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Pets and autism
According to the Mental Health Foundation, pets are very beneficial for children with autism. Sensory benefits include children getting used to how their fur or skin feels and smells. Pets are also calming to many children with autism and may increase the ability to socialize with others. Research has been done on this subject and is ongoing regarding animal-assisted therapies. Service animals also play a role in improving the lives of children with autism. They can also help keep children safe by serving as guides or helpers with a variety of tasks.
Pets are loving companions for people of all ages. And even if you can’t have a pet, spending time with one by volunteering at a local animal shelter provides many of the same benefits!