A Whisker a Day: The Health Benefits of Pet Companionship
by Danielle Cookish
Every day, we’re told amazing stories of animal companionship and how that bond has brought immeasurable joy to families who share their home with pets.
The exuberance we feel during special moments with our pets isn’t random, but a well-documented and frequently studied human response to the presence of a beloved animal.
People who live with dogs have a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. This is due mostly to increased physical activity like daily dog walks, hiking, and high energy play sessions. We’re getting our daily cardio, but dogs make it a lot more fun.
Comfort, love, and laughter carry health benefits of their own. Those sensations are also delightfully delivered by our pets. All of these elements can cause lower blood pressure and a decrease in stress. A survey conducted by the American Heart Association in 2022 revealed 95% of people with pets rely on them for stress relief.
The simple act of running your hands along your pet’s fur can release oxytocin, a hormone produced by the brain. Oxytocin can be released from exercise, music, and even a hug. Other feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins are released when interacting with our companions.
There’s a reason why guinea pigs have been affectionally referred to as “serotonin potatoes”.
Children who enjoy the company of pets experience cognitive stimulation, lower anxiety, and an early understanding of compassion for others. A 2015 study found that children with ADHD who read to real animals showed more behavioral improvements in sharing and cooperation than those who read to a stuffed toy animal.
While the good company of a companion animal doesn’t replace the appropriate treatment for depression, anxiety, and other medical and mental health conditions, animal companionship is something special to consider when thinking about your overall wellness and the care you provide for yourself.