In 2020 we are living in an environment that provides a constant flow of stimulation. Households can have multiple televisions and personal electronic devices loaded with numerous social media platforms. If we constantly engage we can feel overloaded without even realizing it. During times of stress and over-stimulation, our bodies go into what is commonly referred to as ‘fight or flight’ mode. This reaction is our body’s natural response to being overstimulated either physically, mentally, emotionally, or environmentally.
When one of these areas becomes roused it can simultaneously impact several facets of our life. When we are under duress for an extended period our bodies and its normal functions become less effective. Managing stress is different for each of us and learning what works best can take years to recognize. However, I truly believe having a pet is one of the best ways to manage stress. Truly, pets help improve our health in many ways.
Benefits to owning a pet
A cursory glance online offers countless articles about how pets help improve our health, with stress reduction just being one. Being a pet parent not only eases stress but provides companionship and soothes emotional upheaval. They provide company for those living alone and friendship in unique ways. In addition to camaraderie, research indicates that the human companion experiences decreased psychological arousal and stress when a human and animal bond has been established. Our pets may not be able to communicate in our language of choice, however, they often become experts at interpreting our tone of voice, body language, and gestures.
“They are with us every day becoming attuned to our behaviors and emotions.”Mrs. B
Pets help us maintain healthy physical, mental, and emotional behaviors. How do pets help improve our health? Here are just a few examples.
- They encourage interactive play and extra movement throughout the day.
- Dog owners frequently take more walks outside than those of us without pets, fostering more exercise, and increased vitamin D consumption.
- Playing with cats and other small indoor pets increases the functional activities of daily living, such as bending, reaching, and stretching.
- The act of physically petting a dog or cat can reduce anxiety and some studies tout owning a pet can help lower blood pressure in those with hypertension.
- Playing with an active animal elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters released by our bodies help us feel happy, stay calm, and relax more naturally.
- Some studies show pet owners over age 65 make 30% fewer visits to their doctor annually.
One school of thought leads us to believe pets deliver such therapeutic benefits because they fulfill the basic human need for “touch.”When our basic human needs are being met, we feel a greater sense of satisfaction and joy.Mrs. B.
The story of Sebastian…
A wonderful example illustrating the benefits of pet ownership is my beloved cat, Sebastian. We lost him this past February, but he always provided support during times of loss and slept next to me when I was too sick to get out of bed. Sebastian helped entertain me when I was bored, offered a listening ear when I felt confused and purred incessantly when I cried. How we came to be part of each other’s lives is a one of a kind story.
I longed for a cat of my very own since I was old enough to understand the word ‘pet.’ Growing up our family always had indoor/outdoor cats, so I was by no means deprived of playful companionship. The cats could come and go as they pleased which meant I could not always locate a kitty when I desired to play or snuggle. A common scenario included a small girl looking for ways to climb up the cabinets, across the counters, and to the top of our fridge. The goal was to drag the family cat from her warm and peaceful slumber. She was about as compliant as one might imagine and this activity usually resulted in bruises, falls, or cat scratches mixed in with some hissing. Despite the level of commitment that accompanies owning a pet the positives usually outweigh the negatives. I discovered this firsthand in my twenties.
At the overzealous age of 20, I felt I had reached the epitome of adulthood. I had found a roommate and moved into my first apartment. After several months of asserting my newly found freedoms, I felt the only thing missing was a pet of my very own. A short conversation with my good friend and roommate quickly reminded me that she was allergic to cats. Even saddened by such news it occurred to me that maybe I was still not prepared for such a responsibility. Month after month flew by but the longing for a cat continued to intensify instead of dissipating.
The following July, just weeks before my 21st birthday, my boyfriend presented me with a gift that changed my life forever. One of his coworkers was giving away kittens to a good home at no cost if I promised to shower the kitten with love and complete regular veterinary visits. While I was ecstatic at the thoughtful gift, we still had the issue of my allergic roommate. A fact that he had surprisingly not forgotten.
The boyfriend immediately offered for the kitten to live with him and his roommates until my lease ended; I was 100% agreeable. So, one sunny afternoon in August of 2001 I went to get Sebastian. A love unlike anything I have ever felt was born.
“Finding the right pet can create feelings of love, joy, peace, and acceptance simultaneously”Mrs. B.
The first few months were rocky since I had no clue how to appropriately care for or entertain a tiny kitten. I quickly realized that energetic kittens need a great deal more than on-demand snuggling. Vet visits, food, toys, and structured playtime had not been taken into consideration before Sebastian joined my family. However, as the years passed, I realized he taught me how to be more responsible, helped me grow up, and provided an unprecedented level of companionship during some tough times over 19 years. The tiny orange and white puffball ended up giving more than I ever expected.
Pet ownership does not just benefit the owner, but others too. For almost two decades, Sebastian brought joy to many of my family members and friends. His first call to action for emotional support was when my maternal grandmother passed away just before his first birthday. After the funeral, my immediate family gathered at my parent’s home to console one another. A lively little Sebastian entertained us for what felt like hours playing on the den floor with a piece of string. Laughter soon replaced the tears that were shed throughout the day.
Even as we realized his health was fading in early 2020 my mother and aunt rushed over to see us. We sat around sharing stories of his mischievous youth and misadventures. Once again, he was able to bring us together, providing comfort and smiles to replace the sadness.
Between my own experiences and what I have learned through others illustrates how pets help improve our health. Everyone will experience the advantages of pet parenting to a different degree. Regardless of what we find beneficial finding a pet often means finding love.