By Dr Punith*
Coming home to your pet after a hectic day of work is always so special, a wholesome feeling that all pet parents can relate to. Most pet parents feel joy and happiness as soon as they adopt a pet, (regardless of their age) but are they aware of the physical and mental health benefits that come with being a pet parent? The unconditional love and companionship of a pet is more than just keeping you company. Pets reduce stress levels, improve heart health, help children with their emotional and social skills, and also keep people fit by increasing their physical activity.
Health benefits of owning pets
Interaction with your furry friends can decrease the body’s cortisol (a stress-related hormone) levels, relieving body stress and decreasing blood pressure. Some studies have also suggested that having pets reduces loneliness, gives a feeling of social support, and boosts your mood.
Owning a pet can significantly help in increasing an individual’s physical activity as a pet parent needs to walk a dog several times a day which causes him/her to move around a little more than usual, thus improving heart health. Watching pets play can ease mental pressures and reduce stress levels. It is said that sometimes watching fish swim can result in a sense of calmness and tranquillity.
Animals as friends and caretakers
Animals can serve as a great source of comfort and support for humans. Therapy dogs are sometimes brought into hospitals and nursing homes to help reduce patients’ stress and anxiety. Dogs have also been helpful in classrooms, aiding children with ADHD to improve their focus and attention span.
Another study found that children with autism spectrum disorder were calmer while playing with guinea pigs in the classroom. When the children spent 10 minutes in a supervised group of playtime with guinea pigs, their anxiety levels dropped. The children also had better social interactions and were more engaged with their peers. A recent study showed that caring for fish helped teens with diabetes to better manage their disease.
Pet parenting is proven to have some very beneficial physical and mental health effects, some of which include increased physical activity, lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, and curbed loneliness and depression. Pets fulfil the basic human need for companionship and love, thus having a therapeutic effect on pet owners. Even hardened criminals in prisons show long-term changes in their behaviour after interacting with pets, many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time. Stroking, hugging, or otherwise touching and loving an animal can rapidly calm and soothe you when you are stressed or anxious.
* M.V.Sc (Animal Nutrition), Asst. Product and Techno-Commercial Manager, Drools Pet Food Pvt. Ltd.