World Animal Day, recognized every year on October 4, is a day dedicated to improving animal welfare standards across the globe. Although this special day just passed, we still want to recognize it, as it unites all animal rights organizations into one global movement, creating a collective force with a shared mission of making the world a better place for animals — domestic and wild.
For domesticated animals — the pets we consider family members — this day is focused explicitly on alleviating the current strain on local animal shelters. Approximately 6.5 million animals are brought to U.S. animal shelters every year, and nearly 1.5 million of them are euthanatized. By avoiding pet shops and instead visiting your local animal shelter, pet owners become a part of the solution while gaining all the benefits of owning a loving pet, including the health advantages. While we often think of helping pets in need, it’s easy to forget that they help us just as much.
How Pets Improve Mental Health
If you own a pet, you’re familiar with the happy feeling of being met at the door with a wagging tail or a curled-up cat joining you on the couch for cuddles. It’s a feeling of unconditional love and adoration, but there is real science behind the emotions of pet ownership. From relieving stress to helping with anxiety, owning a pet comes with many mental health benefits.
Sometimes all it takes is eye contact with your dog to release a hormone called oxytocin — known as the love hormone — to make you feel happier. This immediate mood booster can lift your spirits and wash away even the worst of days.
Owning a pet comes with the responsibility of ensuring they’re fed healthy food, groomed, happy, and getting enough exercise. The obligations that come with pet ownership lead to established routines, consistency, and predictability in your day-to-day life. For many, this routine offers a heightened sense of control, which can help alleviate anxiety and depression.
Cortisol is the hormone connected to stress and anxiety, and simply petting your dog or cat is a quick way to de-stress and lower cortisol levels. Any interaction with your pet provides a calming feeling that helps normalize this hormone after a bad day or if you’re dealing with a particularly stressful stage of life
For people who live alone, especially younger people who are on their own for the first time and older people who have lost their life companion, living with a pet alleviates loneliness and provides a source of comfort. They also help lonely people connect with others by helping to initiate conversation and interaction with those who live nearby or when visiting dog parks.
How Pets Improve Physical Health
Not only are pets responsible for boosting our moods, but there are proven physical benefits of pet ownership as well. While we often think of dogs and cats as the pets that offer the most mental and physical health benefits, other types of pets play a role in improved physical health. For example, birds help keep your mind sharp, and watching fish in an aquarium helps with muscle tension and lowers your heart rate.
The other physical health benefits of pet ownership include:
- Lowered blood pressure in stressful situations
- Elevated levels of serotonin and dopamine, with help with calmness and relaxation
- Lowered triglyceride and cholesterol levels, which are indicators of heart disease
- 30 percent fewer doctors’ visits for pet owners over the age of 65
As we celebrate World Animal Day, consider the mental and physical benefits that come with pet ownership and consider adopting to improve not only the life of a pet but yours as well. This also applies to service dogs, with the AVMA revealing a study that connects service dog ownership to their owners’ and caregivers’ improved emotional well-being.
If you decide to take advantage of the many mental and physical benefits of pet ownership to celebrate this World Animal Day by adopting a cat, dog, or other pet, please give us a call to get your new furry family member on the path to optimal wellness.