You enjoy the feeling when your dog meets you at the door or your cat curls up on your lap for a snooze, but can pets actually help you live a happier, healthier life?
The answer seems to be yes.
Researchers, whose work was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found, “Pets can serve as important sources of social support, providing many positive psychological and physical benefits for their owners.”
One study in this research, according to Psychology Today, whose lab hosted the research, found, “Pet owners exhibited greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, were less lonely, were more conscientious, were more socially outgoing, and had healthier relationship styles.”
Furry friends help with many mental health diagnoses
“I’ve seen many times where patients will tell me their anxiety has come down after getting a pet,” said Dr. Veeresh Bajaj, a Marshfield Clinic psychiatrist.
Bajaj said pets may help with post-traumatic stress disorder and can provide comfort to patients with Alzheimer’s disease. People in a nursing home who can’t have a pet may even benefit from a stuffed animal product that imitates pet behavior.
Pets also can help children who have autism and may struggle with social anxiety.
“We have to think outside the box in terms of finding ways to help people,” Bajaj said. He said research shows animals can boost levels of oxytocin, a hormone that helps people find social connection with others and lowers stress. Animals can be so beneficial people on mood medications may be able to cut down their dosage, Bajaj said.
Dogs are often thought of as the best animals for pet therapy, but the connection between the animal and person is more important than the type of animal. If you feel connected with a cat, bird or any animal, it will be a valuable relationship for your mental health.
While animals are a great influence on mood, Bajaj said there is no substitute for strong human relationships.