We have known this for thousands of years. Years: Animals make us feel good. They even do us good when they're not biting our shoes, of course.
Over the past 20 years, research has emerged on human-animal interactions, and they have proven that people who have pets are happier and healthier. They visit the doctor less frequently, have more fun and feel more secure than those who do not have a pet.
Why is this? No matter how many technological innovations we have, humans are animals, and the need to be close to other animals is a fundamental part of being human, according to Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Animal-Human Bond at Purdue University. Here are some of the many healthy roles that animals play in our lives.
Like any pleasant activity, playing with a pet can improve mood by increasing serotonin and dopamine levels, says Beck. What's more, contact with animals can immediately increase levels of oxytocin, the hormone that makes us feel good when activating the pleasure centers of the brain, and is famous for being released during orgasm. When performing a stressful task, people suffer less stress when their pets are with them than when they are with a spouse, a relative or a close friend, according to a study conducted in 2002 at the State University of New York in Buffalo. The calming influence of a pet even works better to control high blood pressure than the most commonly used medications.
Are your personal trainers
Who's driving who? Studies suggest that the human benefits of taking your pet to meet their physiological needs rival those of Fido's full bladder. Dog owners who walk their pets often stay more active and are less likely to be overweight than those who do not have or do not walk a dog, according to a study among more than 2,000 adults. What if you do not go for a walk with your cat, hamster or iguana? Even if you have that kind of pet, chances are you'll still exercise more than those who do not have a pet, according to Beck. All pet owners have to do some physical activity to take care of their animals, and they often remain active to touch them, hug them, play and be near them.
Act like social butterflies
Your animal friends can help you make human friends. Multiple studies have shown that walking with a dog in public leads to having more conversations. Why? People assume that pet owners are friendly and accessible, says Beck.But animal social skills include more than facilitating encounters with other people. "Part of the social assistance we get from humans we also get from the animals," says Beck, who notes that having a dog and a cat is much more common in married couples and families with children than in single-person households. Animals are an extension of our natural social support system, not a replacement for it, says Mr. Beck.
Help mitigate pain
Animal-assisted therapy (better known as animal visits) is becoming an accepted means of pain management in hospitals. People who use animal therapy while recovering from surgery need less than half as many pain medications as those who do not participate in this therapy, according to a study by Loyola University. Meanwhile, patients (and even their vital signs) have reported significant improvements in pain, in their mood, and in other afflictions after an animal visit therapy.
Relieve the Heart
Pets are more than comforting. They also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack by reducing systolic blood pressure, plasma cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. And pet owners who suffer from heart attacks have higher survival rates than those who do not. A year after suffering a heart attack, despite its severity, dog owners are more likely to stay alive than those who do not have one. While many of the cardiovascular benefits can be attributed to the mere presence of an animal, the increase in physical activity among pet owners is also linked to improvements in cardiac function.
Are health monitors
"Smelling chemical changes in the body is really no different from sniffing drugs or bombs," says Beck. "Animals can detect changes that we can not even perceive in ourselves." That is why more and more animals are being trained to monitor the health of their owners through programs such as Dogs4Diabetics. A third of domestic animals that live with people with diabetes, including dogs, cats, rabbits, and even birds, exhibit dramatic changes in their behavior when their blood glucose levels decline. And after just three weeks of training, dogs can detect breast and lung cancer with an effectiveness of up to 97%, according to a study published in the journal Integrative Cancer Therapies. Animals can also feel the onset of epileptic seizures, and helpful animals are able to warn their owners and tell them to sit or lie down before the onset of the seizure.
Strengthen the immune system
Having a pet is the immunotherapy of nature.Children who live in homes with pets attend school three weeks more per year than those who do not have pets. And the more pets the children have, the less allergies they will develop in adulthood. They are also less likely to suffer from eczema, and have higher levels of some chemicals in their immune system, which results in a stronger immune system in general. By curbing stress and reducing the levels of harmful chemicals such as cortisol and norepinephrine, pets further strengthen immunity for life.
They are child therapists
Interactions with animals are enormously beneficial for the development of children, especially those with developmental problems, says Beck. Children with autism are often able to interact with pets comfortably, which in turn can help them in their interactions with other children, while the sensory experience of petting an animal can be a relief for children, according to the children. National Institutes of Health. Caring for a pet can encourage children (especially those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) to focus their attention, and teach them that their care is not just "mom's job," says Beck. In addition, the Statistical Manual for the Diagnosis of Mental Disorders, the official manual of the American Psychiatric Association used in the classification of mental disorders, states that stuttering is often absent when children talk to pets.