If, like me, you have ever arrived home to be greeted by a licking, loving pooch, you know that pets can help lower our stress levels. Studies have shown that cuddling a pet, most likely a cat or a dog, releases the “cuddle chemical” oxytocin in both human and pet. This miraculous little chemical has a calming and soothing effect that leads to the development of a strong bond between pet and owner. This bond can be as intense as that in many human relationships, and may confer similar health benefits.
There are numerous health benefits of owning a pet. These range from improved cardiovascular health to a reduced risk of asthma and allergic rhinitis in children exposed to pet allergens, and better overall physical and psychological wellbeing.
The cardiovascular and lowered blood pressure benefits come in part from the increased exercise taken on a daily basis by the dog owner – when you need to exercise a dog, you do, but when it’s just you needing to exercise, you often make excuses. Venturing outside for a walk with your pooch can also lead to increased social interaction and a sense of connection with your community, which can improve mood and reduce stress levels. If you live alone, pets by their very company can help stave off loneliness and encourage feelings of responsibility and maturity in caring for another being.Pets have also been found to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, leading to a calmer approach to life and thus positively impacting our blood pressure. Simply stroking a pet can have health benefits. If you own a pet, you’re also less likely to suffer from clinical depression.Pets can also teach those with learning difficulties or autism to engage and interact with the outside world. There are numerous case studies of children who, before getting a pet, had been locked inside their own little world, uncommunicative and cut off. After forming a bond with their pet, which is usually a cat or a dog, parents find that almost by miracle their child emerges into the outside world; they engage and show levels of emotion not previously experienced. That is the miracle of pet ownership.