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For A Healthier Life, Hug Your Pet 1Pet owners know that having a pet makes us feel better. Now science is proving what pet owners inherently have known – pets improve our lives both mentally and physically. Extensive studies have been done exploring the human/animal bond and we now know that pet ownership really is good for us in more ways than we ever imagined. So, grab your dog or cat, give them a hug, and read on.

Physical Benefits
It’s no surprise that people with dogs tend to exercise more and often times lose weight. The reason is obvious – dogs want to go for walks, and owners need to take them. Dogs can be very enthusiastic about their demands, even obnoxious when they want that walk. It’s much easier to convince your human friend to blow off that walk and take in a movie than it is to tell your dog no. Face it, your dog always wants that walk, no excuses! Few owners want to disappoint their dog, so they walk.

Pet owners tend to have lower blood pressure (studies have shown that blood pressure goes down just by petting or stroking an animal) and a lower risk of heart disease. Again, this is probably tied into the physical activity of walking and the increase in exercise. Pet owners tend to not only walk their dogs, but also are more involved with them physically by playing ball, throwing a disc, or engaging in tug of war. Any exercise is good exercise, and both humans and pets reap the rewards.

Overall, pet owners tend to have fewer stress related illnesses and fewer minor illnesses, such as headaches, fevers, and colds.  Likewise, babies who are raised with pets tend to develop fewer allergies as children.

Emotional Benefits
Dogs are very good at learning a myriad of words, but they are even better at interpreting our emotions. They are excellent at decoding body language and picking up on gestures and vocal tones. When we are sad or unhappy, dogs just seem to know and respond accordingly. They tend to come to us and sit quietly by our side or rest their head on our lap. Likewise, if we are angry or yelling, dogs tend to retreat and leave us alone. Their ability to gauge our emotions and respond effectively is one of the many reasons they are so successful as therapy animals.

Pets provide companionship and purpose to our lives. Pets give us a reason to get up in the morning. They depend on us for food, play, and exercise, and they give us reasons to get moving even on those days when we don’t feel like doing so.

Studies have shown that seniors who own pets are more able to complete activities of daily living, like dressing and feeding themselves. They know that their pets depend on them for care, and they are willing to put forth the effort. Consequently, wanting to take care of their pets makes seniors more responsible for taking better care of themselves. Pets also give structure to their days as they tend to need regular feeding times and bathroom breaks.

Dogs provide great socialization opportunities. Most pet owners report that while out walking with their dog, people are more apt to speak with them and engage in longer conversation. People tend to want to interact with the dog and pet it, which leads to questions regarding the dog and often segways into other topics.

Pets are beneficial because they satisfy our physical need for touch. Touching an animal, whether stroking or hugging, tends to soothe and calm us and helps to relieve anxiety. This is why therapy animals, especially dogs, are good at helping children and adults with mental health issues to connect and relate to others. Persons confined to hospitals or skilled nursing facilities greatly benefit from visits from animals, especially when they get to pet and physically interact with them. Even prisoners have benefited from long-term interaction with dogs, which is one of the reasons prison facilities have been so successful with having prisoners train and prepare foster dogs for adoption.

Interacting with and petting your dog or cat triggers your body to release “feel good” hormones like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These chemicals tend to make you feel better and generate positive feelings. Not only do these hormones make you feel better, but also, they tend to limit the production of cortisol, a detrimental stress hormone. Studies have proven that these positive benefits result even when we don’t touch our pets – laughing at their silly behavior or simply looking into their eyes tends to release the same “feel good” hormones.

Children benefit from the bonding experience that results from living with a pet. Not only do they become more responsible by helping to care for the dog or pet, but also, they tend to develop better social skills, and are more self-assured and empathetic. All skills which contribute to positive social interactions with people.

Even if you live where pets are prohibited or you don’t feel you have the financial resources to properly care for a pet, you can still reap the positive benefits that come from pet ownership. Volunteer your time at the local animal shelter or rescue group. These organizations usually welcome folks who want to walk dogs or play with kitties. Interacting with pets at these organizations helps make the animals more sociable and therefore more adoptable. It’s a win-win for you and the pets!

There’s an old adage that says, “The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a person.” Now we know that extends to our pets as well. Hug and play with your bird, reptile, or furry friend. Pet them, laugh at the silly things they do. Walk your dog. Talk to your pets. Gaze into their soulful eyes. This will not only help your pet, but it will definitely help you to have a healthier, happier life as well. Science proves it!