That link between us and our dogs, cats, horses, birds and other pets goes beyond unconditional love and companionship. The invisible ties that bind us to our pets can have a dramatic impact on our lives and our health. Why is the human-animal bond so important, and how do we benefit from having pets? Here are what I see as the top three reasons.
They’re Good For Our Health
Living with an animal, or even just visiting one, can have health benefits, including improvements in mental, social and physical health. That’s not just based on anecdotes — a number of studies have validated this truth.
Take dog walking: A study published in the March 19, 2016, issue of The Gerontologist (a journal about old folks) found that people who walked their dogs regularly had less body fat, were more able to get around easily, visited the doctor less frequently and exercised more often and in a more energetic manner. The people who were most bonded to their pets were more likely not just to walk their dog but also to spend more time walking the dog on each walk.
In a different study, a walking program that matched sedentary people with therapy animals resulted in the participants increasing the time and distance they walked over a period of a year. They were motivated because they knew the dogs needed them. The takeaway? A relationship with a dog may be a positive influence on physical activity for adults.
There’s more: Fibromyalgia patients at a pain-management facility who spent time with a therapy dog instead of in a waiting area showed decreased pain levels and significant improvements in mood. Therapy dogs have also been found to have a positive effect on patients recovering from surgery. Other studies have found that the presence of a pet lowers blood pressure in times of mental stress. When my father passed away and my mother was left alone after 60 years of marriage, she would not have made it for 6 more years if it hadn't been for the companionship of her 2 dogs and 2 cats. She had to get up every morning to take care of them. She had to feed and medicate them and in so doing didn't stay depressed for as long as she may have if she did not have them in her life. They protected her and she felt safe living in her home alone. I am thankful for this as she soon learned to smile again and be happy.
They’re Good For Our Kids
Children can benefit from pets, too. Children who will read to a dog or cat and yes, even farm animals or pocket pets, may not do so in the company of a person. Some children like to share secrets with pets in the household, sometimes animals make them feel safe and comforted. Shy children will often "come out of their shell" when they are around pets. You have probably witnessed this or watched television commercials or movies where children look forward to the time the animals come around and feel more at ease with a fur baby to hold and pet.
And it's not just shy kids who benefit from pets. One study found that an animal’s presence increased positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorders. Another discovered that the presence of a dog helped children focus on tasks.
Pets can be powerful allies for kids battling health problems too. In a study, therapy animals helped pediatric cancer patients become more motivated to participate in their treatment. Those kids were also more likely to stay optimistic and want to “get better.”
They Save Lives
Nearly every week, if not more often, I see news stories about pets who have saved people’s lives. They defend children from snakes, keep lost or injured people warm, bark an alarm to neighbors or alert people to fires and so much more.
They keep people who are homebound engaged, assist them with tasks, give them a reason to wake up, provide unconditional love and are always your friend. Every time I am sad or not quite myself, my dogs always comfort me. They know when something is wrong. It is endearing to know that someone - a dog, a cat, a guinea pig - knows me and needs me. That helps me heal!
Pets! They’re good medicine. They help us, we help them and it is a wonderful partnership!