Psychological Benefits of Pets
People always say things like “Dogs are a man’s best friend.” But can pets really affect our overall wellbeing?
Pets make us feel better
According to a recent study people who own pets tend to be more conscientious, more social, have better self-esteem, and healthier relationship styles. In fact, pet owners are less likely to die within 1 year of having a heart attack than those who don’t own pets. Additionally, elderly patients with pets tend to need to visit their GP less often than their counterparts. You’d be surprised just how therapeutic animals can be; simply petting a dog is enough of a positive interaction that your body will actually release dopamine, oxytocin and prolactin (chemicals that make us feel good). It has also been found to decrease the body’s cortisol levels. This is important because high levels of dopamine are correlated with improved mood, while a decrease of cortisol is associated with lowered anxiety and stress levels. If you don’t have a pet nearby, even just thinking about your pet can help ward off sadness when experiencing rejection.
Pets in the office
In some offices, you can actually bring your pet to work, or they have an animal in the office. Some might think, “ah sure, but there’s no way they actually get work done. It can’t be that helpful.” Well, Barker and his other researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University would disagree with you. They found that in offices where people were allowed to bring their dogs to work, the employees reported higher job satisfaction and lower stress levels. While this result is stronger for people who own dogs, the office environment still showed an overall positive effect when pets were allowed in the office.
Pets are good for our physical health
Dogs and horses especially require a lot more exercise than a cat or fish. Because they require more attention such as going on walks outdoors, playing in the park, etc. it helps us also get more exercise. We’re also more likely to socialise with other people while the park, causing a double stress busting effect. In fact, people who own dogs are 54% more likely to meet the national exercise guidelines than people who don’t own dogs. This affects the whole family, kids and all. Adopting a cat or dog has even been shown to lower your blood pressure levels better than medication. This was even the case in a study done on stockbrokers in New York City who suffered from hypertension; and stockbrokers tend to be a pretty stressed out group of people.
Pets provide comfort
There’s a number of reasons why researchers think pets help us feel better. For one, they capture our attention when we’re home and there’s nothing else going on, which can help fight off loneliness. And because animals, such as dogs, are such social creatures, they can help us buffer stress. Pets can be a therapeutic addition if you’re suffering from anxiety or depression. Plus, who can turn down a good cuddle with a cat or dog?
Finding the right pet
The type of pet that would be good for me may not necessarily be the same pet that would be good for you. If you’re choosing a pet for therapeutic reasons, go with what feels right for you. Remember that the responsibilities that come along with a dog are completely different than the responsibilities that come along with a fish.
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.