Animal Company Can Improve Human Health


If you have ever arrived home to be greeted by a wagging tail, you might already know how awesome life with pets can be. But it’s not only the love and companionship that we get from them; pets can be great for our health too. Read on to discover the amazing ways our pets can make us healthier and help us live longer.

Keep heart disease at bay

Walking is a low-intensity and low-risk exercise which not only improves your physical fitness but can prevent heart diseases as well. So, when you walk your dog daily, you are also doing your heart a favor. According to researchers at the University of Sydney, coronary heart disease can be prevented by dog owners if they walk their dogs regularly. Doctors recommend people walk their dogs at least 150 minutes a week to keep their heart healthy.

Regularly walking your dog is good for your health, too. Image credit Carolyn Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Anxiety relief

Petting your furry companion is soothing to both you and your animal. But did you know stroking your pets can alleviate your anxiety too? In a recent study, a group of participants were told to pet a turtle, a rabbit and their toy forms. While stroking the toy forms had no effect on the participants, stroking both turtle and rabbit relieved their anxiety. Surprisingly, it worked even for the people who said they had never liked animals before.

The act of petting an animal causes the body to release oxytocin, a hormone linked with emotional bonding. Simultaneously, it also decreases levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone. So, for most people, a petting session brings a drop in heart rate and blood pressure and a sense of calm and relaxation.

Children with autism and learning disabilities

Pets can teach kids with autism and learuning disabilities to engage and interact with the outside world. In a study conducted by Maggie O’Haire at Purdue University, when a guinea pig was introduced in a class of autistic children, they became happier, more social with peers and showed little or no signs of increased stress. Research also suggests that children with learning disabilities perform better academically when they have dogs at home.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Rosco, a PTSD companion animal, stands behind Sgt. 1st Class Jason Syriac, a military police officer. Image credit DVIDSHUB, CC BY-SA 3.0.

People who have been traumatized by their life experiences often develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Such people frequently feel anxious, become overly vigilant and often experience nightmares. Behavioral therapies and medications are commonly used to treat this complex disorder, but it is not uncommon for symptoms to flare up again even after successful treatment. In such cases, dogs have proven to be very helpful.

One reason dogs are so helpful for people with PTSD is the fact that most dogs are naturally vigilant. They can alert their person when there is something suspicious or dangerous happening. Having that extra layer of security gives reassurance to the human that they are not alone, which helps them feel more calm and relaxed.

Dogs can also help relearn trust. People suffering from PTSD often don’t trust people easily. Developing a strong relationship with their dog can help people relearn trust and unconditional love.


Low blood sugar

As already discussed, having pets can increase your level of physical activity, so you become fitter and
healthier, but did you know that some trained dogs can detect low blood sugar in humans? Such dogs are known as diabetes assist dogs. These dogs are trained to detect specific smells in human breath that are associated with low blood sugar. They can then alert diabetics by touching them in a particular way.

A man and his dog. Image credit Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals.

Alzheimer’s and dementia

Researchers suggest that pets help people become more focused. They are even shown to be beneficial for patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. In a study conducted at a home for people with Alzheimer’s,  when the patients had their dinner in front of aquariums with brightly colored fish, they ate more, and were less
prone to pacing. During the study, the presence of the fish also made participants more attentive and less lethargic.

Surely, having pets is one way to improve health. These health benefits may come from the extra efforts and exercise that walking and playing require, or from the stress relief of having a steady best friend by your side. Of course, taking on the responsibility of caring for a new pet isn’t all fun and games, and for their sake, the decision shouldn’t be made lightly or purely for the benefit of the humans in the household. If you were already leaning towards adopting a new animal family member, the health benefits may be one more reason to consider it.

Featured image: A woman cuddles with her cat, which can cause higher levels of oxytocin. Image credit Meg, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Anoop runs a blog about caring for pet rabbits at Click to see author's profile.

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