In the United States, more than 50 percent of households own a pet and consider it to be part of the family. Dogs and cats are the most common companion animals, but some keep birds, horses and other animals for the same purpose. Research suggests that pet owners experience fewer illnesses, improved recovery time following injury or surgery, and are often happier. Although it’s true that pets are great company and ensure feelings of loneliness are few and far between, these furry friends are likely providing more than anyone realizes.
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Studies of the human-animal bond are fairly new, but the National Institutes of Health reported that pet owners were more likely to have lower heart rates and levels of stress than those without pets. More specifically, dog owners who had experienced a heart attack were more likely to live through the following year than those who didn’t own a dog.
Aside from physical health benefits, other research suggests that pets can play a crucial role during childhood. Many children report talking to their pets before anyone else when they’re upset or scared. James Griffin, an expert in child development and behavior, says that this shows the value of pets as sources of “comfort and developing empathy.” For children with autism, pets can be especially helpful for working on their ability to interact with family members and other kids.
It may sound contradictory, but children raised in a home with pets are less prone to common allergies, such as ragweed and pet allergies. Researchers have found that growing up with animals allows the immune system to build a tolerance to specific allergens and bacteria.
Pets are cute, cuddly and soft, all of which allow them to help their owners manage stress. When your dog or cat does that silly thing that always makes you laugh, you’re reducing stress. Petting and grooming companion animals is relaxing, for both the animal and human, and lowers heart rate.
In a study from Miami University and Saint Louis University, psychologists found that pet owners also had higher self-esteem as well as fewer feelings of fear, loneliness and depression which resulted in reduced feelings related to stress.
Caring for an animal is a big responsibility, but it can also add a sense of purpose to daily life which may increase lifespan. If you’ve been debating whether or not to get a pet, consider the positive benefits it can bring and then go find newest, cuddliest addition to your family.