How Animals Can be the Key to a Happy Life

With the new addition of Shark the Bearded Dragon to our family, I felt inspired to share some facts with you guys about why owning a pet isn’s just a fun venture; being a pet owner can actually ensure that you live a longer, happier, and less stressful life.

We often underestimate the power that animals can have on the human psyche. Think that sounds like a  bunch of psychobabble? Au contraire. Countless studies prove that owning a pet lowers blood pressure, lessens anxiety, helps combat depression, boosts immunity, and more. For example, one study involving pet owners with AIDS showed that those with pets were much less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets. In yet another study stockbrokers with high blood pressure who adopted a cat or dog had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than those people without pets. Pet owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart disease) than those without pets, and heart attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.

When we are stressed, sad, or depressed our bodies release harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine which can truly wreck havoc on the immune system. By owning a pet and playing with/engaging with your animal, pleasurable and calming chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are released. These chemicals combat the nasty side effects of stress hormones, battle depression, and help to keep your immune system in fighting shape. Animals provide a sense of community and companionship, which aid in the fight again depression and other disorders. Loneliness and isolation tend to make anxiety and depression worse, so caring for an animal and feeling wanted and needed can really help take the focus off of personal problems and help give owners a sense of worth. My therapist has a dog, a gorgeous lab named Juneau, and when I am having a particularly hard day sometimes I just sit on the floor with Juneau and brush her for the entire session. Something about animals is so calming and grounding. Pets also can help increase exercise levels: taking a dog for a walk, riding a horse, or even chasing a kitten around the house are all great ways to fit more exercise into your daily health routine.

In addition to the ways that pets can influence our adult lives, animals are really wonderful for children to grow up with. I grew up with dogs, cats, chickens, bunnies, rats, and more. Having pets taught me about empathy, love, caring for others, compassion and responsibility. The rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the importance of perseverance. Furthermore children who grow up with pets are also less likely to have allergies or asthma, and studies show that pets can help calm hyperactive or overly aggressive kids.

Now I’m not suggesting that you rush out the door and adopt a puppy-while there are plenty of benefits of having a pet there are plenty more reasons why getting in over your head is not going to do you any good. Know your limits and start small. For example, puppies need tons of care and attention and time, time that most of us don’t have; the idea behind having a pet is to enhance and improve your life, not make it more stressful. Consider getting a fish, a lizard, or a mouse, something small and relatively easy to care for. Even cats are pretty easy and require very little aside from food, water, and occasional scratches behind the ears. The great news about the benefits of having a pet is that the type of pet is not contingent on how much of the benefits you get, so a small Bearded Dragon can provide just as much depression-fighting chemicals as a German Shepherd. Even staring at an fish in an aquarium can help reduce muscle tension and reduce pulse rate. So, do some research. Look into what sort of animal would work well in your life, and then try it out. You might be truly amazed at how much better you start to feel and how much less stressed you are. My cats Daisy and Dexter and our new addition, Shark, all bring a lot of joy and happiness into my life, as well as the life of Little C (and occasionally Big C’s life too, lol). There is nothing that makes me happier than watching Little C playing with her Dexter, tucking Daisy into a doll bed, or feeding Shark. Being a pet owner is one of the best things in life – and everyone should try it out.