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Support Systems of the 4-Legged Kind

Rebecca Bennington Blog Picture

Researchers have found that simply petting an animal, or watching fish, can reduce stress and blood pressure.  Pet ownership reduces the number of doctors’ visits by 15%.  In short, researchers have found a positive correlation between pet ownership and health, happiness, well-being, and self-esteem.

  • Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
  • People with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without pets. One study even found that when people with borderline hypertension adopted dogs from a shelter, their blood pressure declined significantly within five months.
  • Playing with a dog, cat, or other pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
  • Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets.
  • Heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
  • Pet owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those without pets.

 

They have considered some of the reasons why pets are so beneficial.  It could be that they are always available and not judgmental.  It could also be that since pets need someone to take care of them, their owners feel needed.  And finally, it’s easier to interact with a pet than a person because it does not require the same degree of social skills.  Another study found that pets can help those with mental health problems manage their symptoms through the intensity of their connection with their owners.

Consider how a pet can also increase your level of activity.  They can engage you in play and exercise, in addition to the exertion you use to take care of them. They can also hep you to meet new people and make new friendships.

These facts are a strong argument to consider getting a pet.  If you do not have a human support system, you might consider pets as your support.  This is not to say that you should have an ‘emotional support animal’.  That is an actual term to designate an animal that is given allowances that non-support animals don’t get in order to be available for your support.  A person must have a diagnosed medical or mental health reason to have such an anima.  This article is referring only to getting a standard house pet.

Not everyone is able to own a pet because of their living situation.  That does not mean that you cannot engage with animals who need you.  Pet shelters use volunteers for many services, such as walking the dogs, caring for the animals, cleaning the shelter, and other tasks. Even if you do not want to commit to a volunteer assignment, most shelters will let you interact with the animals as much as you want because it helps to socialize them.

You might be able to get a pet even if you have limited space or resources.  There are benefits to all pet interactions.  You don’t need to limit your thoughts to only dogs or cats.  You might also consider fish, birds, hamsters, snakes, or another small animal that does not require the space or care that a dog or cat needs.

You can use your pets just like you would use a human support system.  You can talk to them and rely on them for acceptance and love.

Pets may not be able to talk to you or give you answers.  But they can convey feelings and let you know they care.  They can provide friendship and support and they are great listeners!

This is a great article that further lists the benefits of pet ownership and also lists some things to consider when determining what pet is the best choice for you:

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.htm

Here are some additional studies if you’d like more information.

https://bmcpsychiatry.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12888-018-1613-2#Sec20

https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2018/02/power-pets#:~:text=Animals%20can%20serve%20as%20a,reduce%20patients’%20stress%20and%20anxiety.

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Rebecca Bennington

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