18 Ways Science Confirms What Our Hearts Already Know

Posted by Emily Piccirillo on

Companion animals are the incarnation of unconditional love and that’s some seriously powerful medicine!

The next time someone challenges your claim that pets are really good for us, here’s a whole host of benefits they deliver to people of all ages — just by sharing their company. When we’re with them, we become more relaxed and able to deal with life, and they help us to be more engaged in a variety of valuable ways that make life better.

Here is a selection of the many important benefits of being with our beloved pets:

  1. In the most basic, practical sense, caring for pets gives structure and rhythm to our lives and this motivates us with a sense of purpose. These daily responsibilities help us to feel needed and wanted; present an immediate source of interdependence; and add perspective and balance by reducing our focus on other personal concerns.
  2. You might say that all pets are “emotional support animals” because they lift our spirits, reduce depression and anxiety, and strengthen overall mental well-being. This may be the best benefit of all since so many ailments are related to attitude and mindset! These gains are in part due to the physical contact we share with our pets. All mammals seem to have cells directly under the skin that activate the neurotransmitter oxytocin, nicknamed "the love drug”. Gentle touch releases it in the brain, promoting our inclination toward nurturance, comfort, calm, kindness, and joy. A pet's affection is a powerful antidote to life’s challenges and has even demonstrated effectiveness countering PTSD and chemical dependency.
  3. Pets are excellent role models as loving and intuitive friends because they help us feel understood. They’re so attuned that they can be downright telepathic! Research shows that dogs can interpret human emotional states from our facial expressions alone, understand our intentions, try to help us, and learn to avoid and protect us from those who don't treat us well. No wonder they’re so good at training us!
  4. Pets’ positive regard gives us permission to be more vulnerable and accepting of our whole selves, allowing us to indulge in more silliness, play, and adventure. They’re fine with us making fools of ourselves!
  5. Pets get us moving! Their mere presence in our lives makes us more active, even if just with the addition of their care to our daily routine. They encourage exercise and even the basic responsibilities that come with pet care require us to get up and move around more.
  6. Dogs in particular get us to go outside, into the fresh air, and in contact with the natural world. A recent study indicates that just viewing greenery can reduce unhealthful cravings.
  7. Pets help us to socialize and this reduces loneliness. As close companions, our interactions with them connect us with others. They serve as ice breakers with new neighbors and strangers by offering an easy, pleasant topic of conversation.
  8. Pets strengthen family bonds due to all the shared activities and good times together that the pet inspires.
  9. Pets also deliver public health benefits. Neighborhoods and workplaces are more cohesive and fun when they include lots of pets. This strengthens the perception of security due to heightened awareness of surroundings and increased familiarity with other people. The presence of pets induces the reciprocal exchange of favors and increases participation in civic and community events.
  10. There are many measurable medical benefits of pets. Pet parents enjoy longer, healthier lives, with delayed onset of illness and disabilities. They also enjoy a reduction in the use of prescription drugs and fewer overall visits to the doctor’s office (with the bonus of healthcare cost savings), especially among people older than 40. This translates to improved economic stability.
  11. Pets reduce cardiovascular disease and heart attack risk, and help to deliver higher one-year survival rates following a heart attack. They lower blood pressure, respiratory rate, triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  12. Pets improve immunity to a wide range of pathogens.
  13. Pets ease pain associated with many chronic medical conditions, such as fibromyalgia, migraines, and arthritis. They activate natural painkillers called beta endorphins.
  14. We heal and recover faster in the company of pets following surgeries and accidents.
  15. Dogs have smell receptors 10,000 times more accurate than humans' and a new study shows they pick out blood samples from people with cancer with almost 97% accuracy. The results could lead to new cancer-screening approaches that are inexpensive and accurate without being invasive. Early detection can also improve survival rates. Another study indicated that having a companion cat or dog is associated with reduced risk for Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and diffuse large cell lymphoma.
  16. Pets improve the lives of children in many ways. The necessary tasks in caring for pets teach responsibility, commitment, and devotion; pets can prevent allergies especially when companion animals are introduced during the early years; the soothing effect of holding and petting an animal helps to develop self-regulation; kids diagnosed with autism and ADHD benefit from the trust and predictability in pet bonds, as evidenced by lower stress hormones like cortisol and more positive behaviors. Rather than being a distraction as one might expect, pets help kids focus and concentrate, thereby improving their capacity to learn. Pets build resiliency in children due to their supportive presence as well as the release of the neurotransmitter/hormone dopamine which is associated with experiencing a reward. Children in cancer treatment are more motivated over time to participate in their protocol and more inclined to stay optimistic. A recent study even linked exposure to dogs in early childhood with reduced risk of schizophrenia.
  17. Pets are the only animals that specifically evolved to be special friends with humans and in that unique way they teach us gratitude.
  18. And here’s an especially wonderful gain from having pets in our lives — The human-animal bond is mutually beneficial. We effect the same physiological shifts in our pets as they do in us! Everybody wins!

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