The Power of Pets –Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interaction

By on March 4, 2022

People and their pets have a special bond – one that seems to defy human understanding. There’s just something magical about the way your dog looks at you when you’re cuddling on the couch or the quiet but constant presence of a cat who might not want to cuddle but still wants to stay nearby. This bond is so fascinating that it inspired a new field of study investigating human-animal interaction (HAI).

The term human-animal interaction is a broad term that describes the relationship or interaction between a person and an animal. Over the past few decades, scientists have been exploring the impact of human relationships with other animals, especially the human-animal bond. The College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University describes the human-animal bond as, “a mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals that influences the health and well-being of both.”

While this area of study is still fairly new, it has yielded some amazing results. Pets have the power to influence our mental and physical health for the better in measurable ways. Here’s what you need to know about the health benefits of owning a pet.

Scientifically Supported Benefits of Pet Ownership

Being a pet owner means taking care of another life but what you may not realize is that your pet is taking care of you in return. Scientific research shows that pet ownership is associated with numerous mental and physical health benefits ranging from stress relief to improved interpersonal relationships.

Here are 10 scientifically supported benefits of pet ownership:

  1. They can relieve stress. Holding a pet or even being around them can decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol and trigger the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin.
  2. They help alleviate loneliness. Pets are our constant companions and simply having a pet can alleviate loneliness. This may be particularly true for children who have difficulty making friends.
  3. They can help create structure in life. Both adults and children can benefit from having a stable routine and nothing forces you to create a routine like owning a pet. Having a routine may help alleviate symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression.
  4. They help build empathy and compassion. People who own pets may have stronger interpersonal relationships because they’ve learned patience, empathy, and compassion in caring for their pet.
  5. They can help keep your mind sharp. Some studies have shown a positive correlation between pet ownership and reduced symptoms of dementia. Having a dog around has been shown to reduce agitation and behavioral symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients.
  6. They may help relieve symptoms of depression. Studies show that pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-pet owners. Owning a pet boosts production of oxytocin in the brain which helps combat symptoms of mental health issues like depression.
  7. They provide companionship and social interaction. Owning a pet means you’ll never be alone, but they also provide opportunities for social interaction with other humans. Walking your pet or taking them to the pet store gets you out of the house and around other people.
  8. They improve your outlook on life. Spending time in nature and interacting with animals has been shown to boost positivity and improve the ability to cope with grief and stress.
  9. They boost your cardiovascular health. Owning a pet has been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. All of these factors contribute to improved cardiovascular health and a reduced risk for heart attack.
  10. They can help teach kids responsibility. Responsibility is an important lesson to learn in life and kids who grow up with pets may learn the lesson earlier than those who don’t.

Though pets can certainly boost your mood and have a positive impact on your mental health, sometimes you may find yourself needing a little extra help. If you’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, talk to your doctor or consult with an online psychiatrist to get the help you need to be your best self and the happy, healthy owner your pet deserves.

How Can You Improve Your Pet’s Life?

Without you having to ask, your pet offers unconditional love and affection. Simply having a constant companion can make a world of difference in how you feel and how you experience life. Though your pet would never ask for anything in return for their companionship, you may be wondering how you can show your appreciation and give back a little of what your pet offers so freely.

The biggest thing you can do to make your dog happier and healthier is to do your duty as a responsible pet owner. It may be tempting to shower your pet with treats, but extra food doesn’t necessarily mean extra love. Pets are just as prone to obesity as people, so it’s important to monitor your pet’s caloric intake and make sure they get the exercise they need. Choose a high-quality dog food or cat food that provides for your pet’s nutritional needs and make sure it’s formulated for the appropriate life stage.

In addition to meeting your pet’s physical needs for exercise and nutrition, make sure you’re taking steps to support their mental health as well. Pets need mental stimulation, so engage your pet in daily playtime or training to keep their mind sharp. Training your pet isn’t just important for good behavior, it also provides an opportunity to strengthen your bond. Find a tasty treat your pet likes and use it to reinforce desired behaviors – you can also use a favorite toy or a belly rub as a reward.

Being a pet owner is a big responsibility but it’s well worth it. Not only does owning a pet have the power to provide a wide range of mental and physical health benefits, but it means you’ll always have a faithful friend in your corner. Sometimes that’s all you need.

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