There’s no denying that animals play a number of important roles in the lives of humans. Not only can animals provide useful services for their human owners, but they also provide something that most people can’t do without – companionship. In fact, in some ways, animals can make ideal companions. Many animals are quite loyal to their human caretakers, and they place no conditions on their affections. They’re nonjudgmental and always available. But could they also provide health benefits to the humans who care for them? Take a look at some interesting facts about the health benefits of animal companionship.
- The healing power of animals
Fewer Animal Allergies in Children
If anything, you probably think of allergies as a possible health risk of having animals in the house. However, the opposite seems to be true. People who are exposed to animals in infancy, such as those who grow up with pets in the house, seem less likely to develop allergies to animals later on.
Why does this happen? The answer appears to be reduced sensitization. When children grow up with animals in the house from an early age, they become less sensitive to potential allergens like dander and pet hair.
This can be an important benefit. Children who don’t have to worry about animal allergies have fewer restrictions on where they can go and what activities they can participate in. As they grow up, they may be more likely to consider adopting animals themselves, allowing them to reap some of the other benefits of animal companionship.
Animal Companionship Helps to Ease Anxiety and Stress
Companion animals appear to help lower their owners’ anxiety and stress levels. In fact, dog owners have been shown to perform better on math problems when their dog is in the room. Because they feel less stress with the dog present, they’re better able to perform on a math question.
But less stress and anxiety doesn’t just mean better scores on math tests. It can also mean better health. High stress levels are linked to any number of medical conditions. One serious medical condition that can be affected by stress levels is hypertension – high blood pressure. By reducing stress, companion animals can help reduce high blood pressure. And when unhealthy high blood pressure levels are reduced, the risk of heart attack or stroke is decreased and heart health is improved.
This means that just by being present, companion animals could have a potentially life-saving effect on their owners’ health.
Increase Physical Activity
Not all pets require a lot of physical interaction with their owners, but many of the most common household pets do. Dogs, for example, require not just interaction, but regular exercise. At a minimum, dogs need to be walked on a regular basis, and younger and more active dogs thrive on even more vigorous activity. Cats can also benefit from physical play. Pets like goats, rabbits, porcupines, turtles, rats, and even some species of reptiles can all be leash-trained to some extent.
Pet owners who are making sure that their pets are getting adequate exercise are likely to also increase their own level of physical activity. And increased physical activity is just as good for human health as it is for pet health. Regular exercise improves energy levels, mood, and quality of sleep and reduces the risk of a wide variety of adverse health conditions, including mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Reduce Loneliness with Animal Companionship
At first glance, loneliness doesn’t seem like a health problem. But the fact is, loneliness can actually have serious adverse effects on one’s health. People who suffer from loneliness are at greater risk for diabetes, arthritis, dementia, and heart disease. Loneliness can also trigger depression, and can even put sufferers at greater risk of death by suicide. Because the potential effects of loneliness are so serious, loneliness should be considered a serious health risk that needs to be addressed in some way. Animal companionship is one way to address the problem of loneliness.
Most people who own pets consider those pets companions, not property. In fact, many pet owners report talking to their pets, the same way that they might talk to a family member or roommate. It’s clear that for many people, animal companionship is valuable and can help decrease loneliness.
Pet owners also have the opportunity to take care of their pets. They prepare food for their pets, groom them, nurse them through illnesses or injuries, and otherwise nurture them. This is good for the pet, but it’s also a benefit to the pet’s owner as well. People can often experience loneliness when they feel that they’re not needed by others. The opportunity to care for a dependent pet reminds the owner that someone does need and depend on them, further reducing feelings of loneliness.
And companion animals may help reduce loneliness in other ways as well. Having a pet around can be a good way to connect with other humans, not with just your pet. In fact, some offices have discovered that bringing in dogs creates a stronger bond between coworkers. Dogs seem to improve team cohesion and trust among employees.
Even outside of the workplace, pets can be an effective means for pet owners to meet each other. After all, pet owners have something in common. There are many places where pet owners can seek out others like them, from dog parks to veterinarian’s offices to pet grooming salons to online forums for pet owners. Whether you own a dog, cat, hamster, reptile, or exotic bird, somewhere there are other pet owners who also have the same type of animal. It’s common for pet owners to reach out to each other for advice or resources related to the care taking of their pets. Pet owners sometimes meet up to arrange play dates, if they have social pets, or for pet breeding purposes. All of these interactions can lead to friendships between human pet owners. While human companionship isn’t necessarily a guaranteed result of pet companionship, the possibility does exist that animal companionship can reduce loneliness by enabling pet owners to forge relationships with each other.
For animal lovers, animal companionship can be an important factor in improving both physical and mental health. A therapist or counselor may recommend animal companionship as a therapeutic way to help people cope with a variety of issues.