If you own a pet you are probably very familiar with the way they make you feel after a long day. Our bodies and minds relax and unwind when playing with, petting or cuddling with our furry friends. A key component to overall health and wellness is experiencing love and joy daily and as often as possible. Our pets can help us with this and, over time, generate positive emotions and feelings in our bodies which will contribute to holistic health.
The Love of Otis
I was a late bloomer when it came to owning a pet. Although I grew up on a farm with many dogs, cats and other animals, none of them were ever “mine.” They were family pets who loved us all, but preferred no one. So when my 13 year old son decided he wanted a dog, then purchased it himself and lost interest in two weeks, I became a doggy mom. It was one of the highlights of my life. Otis was a black cocker spaniel who knew my every mood and seemed to know every thought. A divorcee at the time, I considered him my soul mate. I believe God brought him into my life because he knew how much I was going to need him and Otis got me through some very tough times. Having recently lost him, I am acutely aware of how much he did for me. He was there when I was depressed or fearful, pressing himself against my side and making me put my attention on him instead of my worries. He was there when I was happy-bouncing, smiling and sharing my joy. He was there anytime I needed him for whatever reason. I miss him so much. I wish all of us could have such a friend and confidante full of deep, unconditional love, especially in difficult times.
Pets Can Improve Your Health
Because of Otis, I believe in the numerous studies that have demonstrated that the average companion animal can deliver extraordinary physical and mental health results. They have shown that in some cases, having a pet can improve your health more than medication alone – or at all. It’s no wonder then that more than half of households overall have a pet in the family.
WebMD.com lists the following ways pets help our health:
Uncomplicated love: Are your relationships with family and loved ones complicated and frayed? A pet can be a great antidote. “With a pet, you can just feel,” says Teri Wright, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Santa Ana, Calif. “You don’t have to worry about hurting your pet’s feelings or getting advice you don’t want.”
Responsibility: You might not think you can take care of a pet right now. Taking care of yourself may seem hard enough, but experts say that adding a little responsibility can help. It adds a new and positive focus to your life. “Taking care of a pet can help give you a sense of your own value and importance,” Cook says. It will remind you that you are capable — that you can do more than you might think.”
Activity: Are you barely getting off the couch these days? You need to get more physical activity. Pets can help. “If you have a dog, that dog needs to be walked,” Cook says, “A little extra physical activity is good for your physical and mental health.”
Routine: Having a daily schedule helps people with depression. An animal’s natural routine — waking you in the morning, demanding food or walks — can help you stay on track.
Companionship: Depression can isolate you. It can make you pull back from your friends and loved ones. If you have a pet, you’re never alone. That can really make a difference.
Social interaction: Having a pet can gently push you to get more social contact. You might chat with others while walking your dog at the park or waiting at the vet. Pets are natural icebreakers and other pet owners love to talk about their animals.
Touch: Studies show that people feel better when they have physical contact with others. Pets offer something similar. There’s something naturally soothing about petting a cat on your lap. Studies have shown that petting a dog can lower your heart rate, too.
Better health: Research has found that owning a dog can lower blood pressure, reduce stress hormones, and boost levels of feel-good chemicals in the brain. One study of Chinese women found that dog owners exercised more often, slept better, reported better fitness levels and fewer sick days, and saw their doctors less often than people without dogs.
Caring For Another Gives Us Purpose
Pets love us unconditionally, although my cat, Phil, doesn’t show it like a dog, he interacts with me consistently, brightening my day with his unconscious arrogance and deciding that he (not me) needs a snuggle. Caring for another brings us out of ourselves and gives us purpose, whether we wish it or not. When we have a loving relationship with a pet, we are less lonely, less stressed, less depressed, more joyful, better able to relate to others and have a greater sense of well being. Your pet can be a best friend or even like a child. You can share secrets with them and they will not judge you. They can help bring you lots of laughter and joy. They like to be touched just like you do and they need you. We all love to feel needed. Pet personalities are as varied as they are for people. Some are stubborn, timid, mild mannered, mean, grumpy, shy, happy, sad, or any number of other things. But one thing is common among them all… they love you! We all need to feel loved and to give love. Our companion animals and furry friends can open our hearts if we will only allow them to.