We all know that pets are remarkable for their capacity to love. But how often do you think about your pet’s sense of humor? Or its ability to be goofy, or compassionate, or comforting? Animals bring a vast number of benefits to their human companions, improving every aspect of owners’ lives from their health to their optimism and outlook on the future.
Understanding The Many Benefits of Pet Ownership
Even though animals can’t speak English, study after study has shown that they are incredibly advanced at understanding. Not only can they understand many of our words (some breeds are said to understand up to 300 words), but they have an uncanny sense of our moods based on subtle cues like body language, tone of voice, and demeanor.
Often, when a pet is acting strangely, the key to their behavior actually lies in the vibe we humans are putting out. Does your dog leave the room when you’re angry with the computer? Does it act aggressive when you tighten up on its leash in anticipation of a bad interaction with another dog or person? And when you need love and affection, is your dog the first one to come by for a cuddle?
Pets are known to affect people’s health in a beneficial way. Just by their sheer presence, pets can lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and reduce stress. For people who’ve had a heart attack, the odds of survival jump from 1 in 87 to 1 in 15 for dog owners. Owning a pet also seems to help people recover more quickly from illnesses and hospital stays.
Of course, there are some healthy lifestyle changes that come with owning a pet. If you have a dog, you need to walk it every day, and you might also toss tennis balls for it in the yard or take it swimming at the lake. Having a dog might increase your social network by getting you out to the dog park or into town—and the health benefits of a stable circle of friends is well known. Pets encourage us to have a daily routine and to get enough sleep. And they provide us with opportunities for soothing, meditative activities like brushing and petting that help lower the heart rate, blood pressure, and stress levels.
For all the reasons above—and because of the good cheer, humor, and companionship pets bring—they’re pros at reducing depression and loneliness in people. Studies have also found that nursing home patients who have pets use fewer prescription drugs and have fewer complaints than their pet-less counterparts. In the general public, pet owners visit the doctor less often and have fewer medical complaints than those without pets.
Dogs also have a special skill at sensing shifts in diseases. Studies have shown that some dogs are able to smell cancer in people. More importantly, dogs’ abilities make them perfect companions for people with dangerous conditions like epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and diabetes. Specially-trained dogs can sense the aura that precedes an epileptic seizure, and they can use this crucial pre-knowledge to guide their person to safety.
Parkinson’s patients can have problems with “freezing,” when their feet freeze in place but the rest of their body keeps moving, causing the patient to fall. Helper dogs are trained to spot the freeze. When it happens, they touch the frozen foot and this miraculously makes the foot unfreeze. This phenomenon is still a medical mystery—no one knows why it works, but it does. Other dogs are trained to detect low blood sugar in diabetic patients, giving them time to correct their blood sugar levels before something serious happens.
You’ve probably always known that having a pet makes you happy. It gives you a friend to do with, a pal during walks and car rides, and a furry face to pet at the end of the day. But you might not have known all that your dog or cat is doing for your health! From lowering stress to getting you out of doors, the benefits of pet ownership are so many and so varied, they’re really too great to count.