The unconditional love of pets

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The unconditional love of petsWhile the debate rages on between dog people and cat people, one thing we can be sure of is the unconditional love we receive from our pets is good for our health.

Whether you’re met at the door with a wagging tail and canine mumblings or you’re met with an aloof, “Oh, it’s only you,” from your too-cool-for-you feline, pets give us as much love as we can handle and more.

Many studies have looked into the health benefits of owning pets and the outcome is always positive. If you live on your own, the comfort a pet can bring is the same as a friend or family member. Even thinking about your pet will elicit feelings of warmth and love, the same as if you were thinking of a close friend or family member. Pets have an enormous impact on our social and emotional well-being. Just knowing you have ‘someone’ to come home to at the end of the day is enough to make you feel good.

Pets can also reduce stress and anxiety. We’ve seen studies on Alzheimer’s patients who experience fewer anxious episodes when there is a pet living in the household. Even these patients’ caregivers experience less stress and improved well-being from living with a pet.

Studies on AIDS patients have shown fewer bouts of depression than those without pets. The evidence points to the strong bond people have with their pets and the power of this connection. In other research, people were studied from high-stress job sectors – stockbrokers – to see if pets had a positive impact on high blood pressure. And they do. Playing with your dog and pampering your cat really do lower blood pressure. It also helps to lower elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Interacting with your pet also stimulates the brain to produce higher levels of serotonin and dopamine, and both of these hormones help to reduce stress. Some cat owners find that just the purring sound of their cat is enough to instill calm.

Pets have also been shown to help heart attack patients with recovery. Studies prove that these pet owners have a longer survival rate than their pet-less counterparts. And if you’re a dog owner, the extra exercise you’ll get from the daily walks is an added heart health benefit.

Pet owners are now known to be happier, healthier and better adjusted than non-pet owners thanks to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:

Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners, says Lead Researcher, Allen R. McConnell, PhD, of Miami University of Ohio.

Dr. McConnell calls his research, Friends with Benefits: On the Positive Consequences of Pet Ownership, and goes on to say that dog owners actually fare better than cat owners, and show increased feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence.

“[T]he present work presents considerable evidence that pets benefit the lives of their owners, both psychologically and physically, by serving as an important source of social support. Whereas past work has focused primarily on pet owners facing significant health challenges … the present study establishes that there are many positive consequences for everyday people who own pets.”

And let’s not forget the added benefit of cute-appeal. When you take your puppy to the park for the first time or your dog for their regular walk, people will always stop, crouch down a little to get a better glimpse and start a conversation: What a cutie! What’s his name? Next thing you know, you’re socializing, making new friends and possibly, meeting the love of your life for the first time.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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