March 1, 2021

The science behind how pets boost health and wellbeing

by Dr Margit Gabriele Muller


Pet lovers are crazy about caring for their pets, whether it’s a dog, cat or any other kind of furry or feathery companion. They do everything possible to keep them happy, safe, and healthy – and to spend countless hours enjoying their unconditional love that brings them so much happiness. But there are numerous other benefits that pets provide that boost our health and wellbeing.


Let’s start with the most logical benefits, the ones that boost our physical wellbeing. Pets shower us with unconditional love and accept us how we really are, without any pretenses, prejudices, or expectations. Our pets help us to chase away loneliness, reduce our social isolation and fulfill our social needs. They simply boost our mood and make us happy beyond imagination. Interaction with our beloved pets even changes the hormonal levels in our bodies. Just three to five minutes of cuddling a pet increases the wellbeing hormone ‘endorphin’, releases the happy hormone ‘dopamine’ and the love hormone ‘oxytocin´ whilst also reducing the stress hormone ‘cortisol’. Pets are the best natural painkillers as they even help reduce pain!


Dogs are particularly helpful in our weight loss efforts as we lose an average of 14,4 pounds per year just by walking them daily for 20 minutes. Dog parents also benefit from reduced triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and have a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases. Dogs make us not only healthier but also help us to live longer – the survival rate of dog owners after suffering a heart attack is much higher than in non-dog owners and even the risk of stroke is reduced in dog owners. 


Pets are not just good for adults – children can greatly benefit from them too. Children growing up with pets suffer much less from allergies than children without pets as their immune system are boosted. Furthermore, children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are much more relaxed and focused when having pets.


Now, let’s dive into the amazing benefits of pets on our mental health. Pets allow us to experience and enjoy each moment as something special and to focus on what we are doing right now. Our pets keep us grounded in the present. Nothing heals us better than talking to our two, or four, legged companions without any fear that they will judge us. Talking to pets eases our problems and worries and can help us better cope with our daily lives, even in stressful and challenging times. They give us a clear daily structure which is so important during Covid-19 lockdowns. Pets can reduce mood disorders, depression, and anxiety. 


Even fish will do – watching them in a fish tank can support Alzheimer’s sufferers by improving their cognitive function, ability to process thoughts and retain information with an increased attention span. Dementia patients can be reminded of their long-lost memories when cuddling pets and interacting with them. Pets, especially dogs, are an amazing help for post-traumatic stress disorder patients as they relax them and let them feel safe and protected. 


But that’s not all. To maintain good mental health, we need to live a life of purpose and meaning. Often our mental health declines if we don´t feel valued, appreciated, or accepted. But our furry companions can be the key – especially in older people – for finding and enjoying a meaningful role as they give us the chance to care for another living being which is a vital contributing part for our wellbeing.


But it’s not just about physical and mental health. Let’s have a look at our emotional health and the life skills that we can learn from our pets which in turn can boost our wellbeing.  When we are content in our own skin and feel satisfied in achieving our goals, our wellbeing improves automatically. Pets can teach us to strengthen our character traits and personality to a great extent. Hope, resilience, bravery, and willpower are just a few of the traits they master. They never give up and serve as fabulous role models for us. By having pets and especially large dogs or unusual pets like birds or reptiles, our self-esteem increases. We become more extroverted by meeting like-minded people and interacting with them. Communication with other people gets easier and we develop more positive relationships which helps us tremendously with our families and colleagues. 


Dogs, especially, are fantastic natural leaders who trust themselves and others. Cats are amazing in teaching us creativity and non-traditional thinking. The enthusiasm of our pets never fades and if we can preserve their joy, enthusiasm, and encouragement in our own lives, we will live each day to the fullest. Life with pets also leads to much better time management, multi-tasking and enhances our responsibility. These are character traits and life skills that can change our personal and professional lives for the better.


As a final note, it’s important that we get the pet that’s right for us – one that suits our living conditions, our time, our character and, of course, our heart. There is a perfect pet for each one of us – they have so much more to give to us than we commonly know and think. Let’s appreciate them for what they really are – our best friends, companions, teachers and healers.

Article by Dr Margit Gabriele Muller, leading vet and award winning author of Your Pet, Your Pill: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to A Happy, Healthy and Successful Life, out now, available on Amazon.


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