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5 Ways Having a Pet Can Make You Healthier

pet health benefits

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Ask any number of pet owners and they’ll convince you of the advantages of adding an animal to the family, but the benefits of pet ownership aren’t limited to couch snuggles and endless cute pics. Interacting with dogs, cats and other pets can help humans both physically and mentally, some research finds. “We do best medically and emotionally when we feel securely attached to another because we’re mammals and that’s the way we’ve evolved,” says psychiatrist Dr. Greg Fricchione, director of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. Here’s how our animal best friends can make a difference in our lives:

Pets may make you happier.

It’s not just your imagination. Adopting an animal really does make your life fuller. Pet owners report more satisfaction with their lives compared to non-owners, a 2016 study found, even though they did not significantly differ on other well-being measures. Dog lovers, specifically, measured higher on all aspects of wellbeing, even more so than cat owners.

Pets may make you feel less stressed.

Feeling anxious? Sit down for a snuggle with your pup or kitten. Interacting with animals can decrease cortisol levels, which are tied to stress, and heart rate, some research shows. Petting a dog or cat for just 10 minutes significantly lowered cortisol levels in a 2019 study from Washington State University.

Pets may physically improve your health.

Those daily walks around the neighborhood and games of fetch do more than just exercise your pup. Regularly walking or playing with pets can lower your own blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). So, when you reach for the leash, you’re getting those same positive effects of exercise yourself.

Pets may help us psychologically, too.

The companionship and unconditional love that pets provide may give us a boost when we feel lonely or depressed, the CDC states. Interacting with dogs even boosts oxytocin levels in humans, studies have found. That particular hormone is associated with love and social bonding — all the more reason to call a dog man’s best friend.

Pets may help kids.

Having a family pet can benefit children too, the National Institutes of Health state. Kids with ADHD who interacted with a therapy dog on a weekly basis showed better social skills and more sharing, cooperation and volunteering compared to a control group, one study found. They also had fewer behavioral problems. Children with autism spectrum disorder also experienced lower anxiety levels and better social interactions after supervised play with guinea pigs, additional research indicates. So, whether you’re considering adopting a 125-pound Great Dane or 2-pound guinea pig, there’s still lots of love to go around.

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