Most pet owners know and appreciate the fun and unlimited affection they receive from their pets, but recent studies have revealed that our cats and dogs do more than put a smile on our faces. Their very presence can help reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
So what makes them the perfect little stress busters?
“Man’s best friend”
As mankind’s oldest domesticated animal, dogs know better than any other creature what ails us. Their playfulness cheers us up when we’re down; their unconditional love comforts us when we feel lonely; their need for exercise gets us out of our homes, providing us not just with exercise but also a social life. As many of you know, dog walkers are uncommonly sociable creatures who love to stop and chat!
Dogs are also known to understand a wide range of our gestures, our body language, even different tones of voice and words we use. They have been around us for millennia and sometimes know us better than our therapists do! Unlike friends and family members, dogs are not judgmental and support us no matter what we do.
Pets can improve physical and mental health
Experiments with dogs and cats in hospital wards in the UK have shown some interesting results. Patients’ chances of recovery improve, and they recover more quickly, when they receive a weekly visit from a furry friend. Instead of banning cats and dogs, many hospitals now adopt pets as part of their wider approach to patient care. Older patients in particular respond well to pet therapy.
Indeed, recent studies have started to explore the advantages of this human-animal bond. For example, The American Heart Association has revealed that owning a pet, especially a dog, can lead to a reduction in heart disease and produce greater longevity.
Studies have also discovered that dog owners have lower blood pressure in situations of stress than people who don’t own pooches. Playing with your dog can raise levels of dopamine and serotonin, which induce calmness and relaxation.
Your own therapist
Dogs and cats are purr-fect little power packs when it comes to therapy. Their eagerness to be petted fulfils a basic human need to touch. Hugging, petting, cuddling or otherwise touching an animal can provide many people with an experience of mutual affection and respect for the very first time. Even career criminals in prison have been shown to respond positively to paw-therapy. Being close to a pet that loves you can soothe and calm you when you experience stress and anxiety.
Cats and Dogs are Stress Busters because…
…they motivate us:
Pets can allow us to rediscover the meaning and joy in life, especially in our later years. We reconnect with the inner child when we play with our pets. When we give up work, we often lose a part of our support network, since we see less of our former colleagues. This can lead to loss of self-worth. Adopting a cat or dog from a shelter can help boost morale and instill a sense of still being needed for an important task, namely giving a loving home to a pet that needs our help.
…they are energizers:
Their need to play and to exercise encourages us to be more active, which boosts our immune system, increases our energy and can help us to ward of heart disease.
…they’re better than social media:
It is virtually impossible not to strike up a conversation when you’re walking your dog or sitting at the vets waiting your pet’s turn. You could be cruising social media networks for months and never meet anyone. Walk your puppy and you’ll be stopped by somebody within moments!
Older people in particularly find it harder to connect. Dogs take care of the initial contact. Watch your cute kitty charm the pants of your next door neighbor, after you’ve just relocated – and before you’ll know it, you’ve made a new friend.
…they provide structure and routine:
Pets need regular feeding, and they’ll soon remind you when it’s time to go walkies! A consistent routine keeps pets balanced, healthy and calm – and the same is true for their owners. As soon as that button nose urges you to fetch lead and collar and go for a walk, your mood will improve.