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Pets Provide Big Mood Boost

If you have been looking for a reason to add a pet to your family, know that “Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz wasn’t wrong when he said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”

Experts say that petting a dog can almost instantly reduce blood pressure or relieve an elevated pulse. These symptoms are associated with stress and anxiety, which can seriously hurt your chances of feeling happy.

According to 2004 research from the University of Missouri-Columbia, just 15 minutes of loving on your furry friend can lower blood pressure by as much as 10 percent. 1

Other studies have found that just spending time in the same room as our pets ease anxiety.

pet ownership Pet owners are happier

2011 statistics reported that 62 percent of households in the United States had one or more family pets.

The reasons are pretty clear. People with pets are happier, healthier and live longer than those without a furry friend. Studies have shown that pet owners heal faster after surgery and are better able to handle illnesses. 2

There is something ethereal about the bond between humans and their pets.

“The touching of our pets and the closeness of the relationship with them is spiritual,” according to the American Association of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians.

According to experts from Harvard Medical School, pet ownership can reduce anxiety symptoms – pet owners have less of a response to stress, and have lower blood pressure, slower breathing and a slower heart rate - and improve one’s overall mood.

“I’m a believer in the beneficial effects of having a pet,” said Dr. Greg Fricchione, a psychiatrist and director at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. 3

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quick to recognize the benefits of having a pet, including happiness, less stress, and increased fitness levels. They also said pet owners had lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and lower triglycerides, suggesting that pet ownership has genuine health benefits, which should make anyone feel a little happier.

Pets also seem to know when their humans are feeling down. The unconditional love they provide can help ease the sadness. So can the knowledge that pets are dependent on us, which can motivate us to work past depression.

Pet owners are healthier pet ownership

Other outcomes suggest that everyone is healthier and happier with a pet in their life. In addition to lower blood pressure, health benefits include:

    • Improved fitness levels- Dogs need a daily walk to wear off energy and prevent destructive behavior. As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog, and owners benefit from that exercise time as well. Spending time in the outdoors helps prevent seasonal affective disorder as well as depression. Recent studies are looking at the impact exercise has on depression, with research suggesting exercise is as effective as medication at easing the symptoms of depression, without the weight gain associated with many antidepressants. 4

    • Lower stress levels- Pets ease anxiety. Studies have shown that spending time with our fur babies is more effective at easing symptoms of stress than being with a spouse or a friend. The American Institute of Stress agrees that caring for and nurturing our pets improves health in various ways including lessening anxiety. That’s because the act of petting a dog elevates levels of the happiness chemicals serotonin and dopamine while lowering levels of stress hormones. 5

    • Less loneliness- Pets require trips to the dog park, visits the pet store or walks around the neighborhood. This leads to more opportunity for socialization and less isolation. One study found that the bond between friendly humans and dogs was strong enough to boost levels of the oxytocin. This hormone is associated with love, especially when prolonged eye contact is present. The dog’s oxytocin levels also increased, showing that they benefit, as well. 6

    • Lower cholesterol levels- Stress wreaks havoc on hormones, triggering an array of health problems including high cholesterol. Reduced cholesterol levels are one of the benefits of having less anxiety. Anxiety’s worst symptom is elevated levels of the hormone cortisol, which causes the release of blood glucose that sticks around. Higher blood glucose levels have been linked to higher cholesterol in studies. When blood glucose levels are lower, cholesterol levels often follow. 7

    • Faster healing- Studies have shown that people who are exposed to pets prior to surgery are less stressed out over the outcomes. People who are recovering from heart surgery who own pets have a speedier recovery too.

pet ownership Even more benefits

“Anyone who has ever owned, played with, or even watched a YouTube video of animals knows full well that there is something magical about them that deeply affects our moods,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Jeff Nalin in an interview with the website Bustle. (Why do you think so many people flood Facebook with videos of playful pups or furry kittens? Fun pet videos ease the stress!) 8

Pet owners are also kinder to others, which can lead to more overall happiness.

According to a 2011 study from Miami University in Ohio, pet owners are more conscientious than those who do not own pets. Having the ability to care about others makes people more mindful of the world around them, leading to a desire to forge deeper emotional connections with others. 9

The study, which appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, called pets the real “friends with benefits” thanks to the social support pets offer their happier, healthier owners.

“There are many positive consequences for everyday people,” researchers wrote.

While pet ownership requires both time and money, the research seems to prove that pets are worth it. Whether somebody has dogs, cats, birds, fish or reptiles, they make life better overall.

Photo Credits: ChristinLola/, MonkeyBusinessImages/, AlenaOzerova/

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