We know how good it feels when our dog snuggles up to us or we hug our kitty cat. Now, new neuroscience research shows that dog parents get five big brain benefits, as well. So, that good feeling from having a furry best friend goes a lot deeper.
With everything from slower cognitive decline in older people with dogs and increased brain activity simply by petting a dog, to better team building in the workplace when a dog is around, stress reduction (fewer overall minor health issues) and better overall health (pet parents make about 15% fewer annual doctor visits than non-owners), the scientific evidence is mounting that these beautiful sentient creatures truly have a deep connection with us on a cellular level.
And, that applies to the entire family. Here are 10 ways, in honor of National Pet Awareness Month, that our animals help us be better versions of ourselves:
- PROVIDES A SENSE OF SECURITY: Unlike parents, teachers, coworkers or even spouses, pets are never critical and don’t give orders. They are always loving and their mere presence at home can help provide a sense of security.
- HELPS TO DEVELOP A POSITIVE SELF IMAGE: Having the love and companionship of a pet can make one feel important and help develop a positive self-image.
- HELPS TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS: Adults and kids who are emotionally attached to their pets are better able to build relationships with other people.
- HELPS YOU MEET NEW PEOPLE: Pets can be a great social door opener for their owners, helping you start and maintain new friendships. Dog parents frequently stop and talk to each other on walks, hikes, or in a dog park. Pet parents also meet new people in pet stores, clubs, and training classes.
- ALLEVIATES DEPRESSION: your pets can make you smile when you’re feeling a bit down, but even those of us suffering with diagnosed depression can reap these mood-lifting benefits. Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes animal-assisted therapy as a treatment for depression and other mood disorders. A pet requires its owner to remain active and can help him or her feel less isolated from society. A pet also remains a trusted companion, even when its owner withdraws from friends and family.
- LESS STRESS: Cortisol is a hormone activated by stress, and studies have found that being around animals can decrease cortisol levels. For this reason, many offices are starting to allow employees to bring dogs to work, and some universities are letting students borrow dogs during stressful times of the year like exams. And, because pets tend to live in the moment—they don’t worry about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow—they can help you become more mindful and appreciate the joy of the present.
- HELPS BUILD TRUST & EMPATHY: A pet can help teach empathy and understanding. Kids can talk with their pet without a fear of rejection, which enables them to build their confidence, and even their vocabulary.
- HELPS TEACH RESPONSIBILITY: Getting even a small, caged pet, such as a guinea pig or hamster, is a great way to develop responsibility skills for adults and children.
- ADDS STRUCTURE & ROUTINE TO YOUR DAY: Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. Having a consistent routine keeps an animal balanced and calm—and it can work for you, too. No matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—one plaintive look from your pet and you’ll have to get out of bed to feed, exercise, and care for them.
- HELPS MAINTAIN A HEALTHIER BODY: having a dog requires some energy. Dogs have to be walked and exercised, which means dog parents are out there getting more physical activity than people without dogs. A study found that 60% of dog parents who took their dogs for regular walks were considered to get regular moderate or vigorous exercise based on federal standards.
If you have an adored pet, make sure you have the knowledge and tools to give them the healthiest, most vibrant life. If you’re considering getting a dog or cat, start them off on the right foot with good nutrition and information on natural ways to address issues, both emotional and physical.
Sources: Inc. Magazine; Helpguide.org; Animalhealthfoundation.org