Studies show that playing with a pet boosts feel-good hormones like serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, in our brains. These hormones are known to be mood-elevators. Surprisingly, the research also shows that the effect is the same regardless of the creature one owns – be it a dog, cat, rabbit, cricket, or turtle – and that touching a pet (or even looking at one) reduces stress significantly. If you, or you or your child or elderly loved one are experiencing anxiety or have issues with stress, find a pet to stroke or play with and reap the reward of relaxing!
Pet ownership is associated with some great benefits. These include:
- Complete acceptance! Pets are not critical and don’t give orders. They accept you as you are … all you need to be is yourself. They are always loving, and depending on the pet, protective. A pet’s presence at home can help us feel secure and may help ease separation anxiety in kids when parents are absent.
- Love and companionship. Having a pet can make us feel loved and less lonely. There is always someone (the pet) to turn to that looks up to you, which can also help with self-esteem.
- Builds social skills. Having a pet may help us build better relationships with other people. Walks around the neighborhood and parks create the opportunity to meet new people and develop new friendships. It gets us out of the house and into a better mood.
- Steadies the nerves. Studies indicate that pets can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive kids and adults. In this instance, however, professional training for both the youth and the pet is required.
- Builds emotional intelligence. A pet can help develop empathy and understanding. Through the interaction of play and the emotion of love, along with the responsibility of pet ownership, emotional maturity and emotional bonding begins to take place. Owning even a small, caged pet, such as a guinea pig or hamster, is a great way to teach a child responsibility and to give a person of any age something to nurture. Caring for a furry friend can bring with it immense joy.
The benefits of interacting with creatures large and small are enormous. It can bring out the very best in our nature because it teaches us how to speak the universal language of love.
When animals are taken into nursing homes, prisons, and hospitals the effects on mental health can be extraordinary. This practice is called Animal Therapy. The idea originated with Florence Nightingale a century ago, so it’s been around for a while.
Formal animal-assisted therapy is often done alongside traditional work with a licensed psychotherapist, social worker, or other mental health–care provider. Informal animal-assisted therapy is also in widespread use and service dogs and emotional support dogs are everywhere. These animals are specially trained and a certification must be obtained from the proper certifying agencies.
The modern version involves specially trained professionals working with animals given specific types of training. These pets then assist people struggling with physical and mental health conditions. These animals can also encourage development of empathy, compassion, and bonding in emotionally remote individuals.
Animal therapy has been proven to have many benefits, such as reducing anxiety and stress, as well as being able to assist the elderly, the blind, and the handicapped navigate their physical worlds. According to psychologist Elena Blanco-Suarez Ph.D, the effects are “measurable”. Endorphin levels in our brains are increased through contact with animals, which elevates our spirit. Blanco-Suarez also states that the “Endorphins bind to and activate opioid receptors in the nervous system, acting like painkillers and producing euphoria.” She goes on to state that people also experienced a “decrease in secretion of stress hormones … [which] contributes to the overall improvement that has been observed in patients exposed to animal-assisted therapy.”
Pets are good for our health. A strong immune system keeps disease from knocking on our door. Loving on an animal gives our immunity a boost and that makes it a therapy. Research now indicates that having a dog benefits the immune system of their owners via actual bacteria exchange - that doggie lick does more than just show you love! Stupendous, right? Researchers at the University of Arizona’s Department of Psychiatry state:
We think dogs might work as probiotics to enhance the health of the bacteria that live in our guts. These bacteria, or the ‘microbiota,’ are increasingly recognized as playing an essential role in our mental and physical health, especially as we age.
Studies have also found that children who grow up with dogs are less likely to develop immunity-related problems, such as asthma and allergies.
The next time you and/or your child are feeling blue, go to a petting zoo, visit a friend with a pet, head to a pet store, or find a pet of your own to bring home and love. The medicine of pure love is the best medicine there is!