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Can pets help improve physical and mental health?

Kitten in a persons hands

Pets make great companions and can provide that unconditional love that’s simply indescribable. Larger domesticated animals in particular, such as dogs and cats, have been known to help human health both physically and mentally. Some studies have been conducted in order to see if pets can scientifically help heal people, whether it be over a long period of time as part of ongoing therapy, or helping people with their health in general. We take a look at whether pets can help improve human health, as well as the benefits that having a pet or using the help of an animal in therapy can have.

Dogs and horses in particular have been know to help people who struggle with long-term mental illnesses, such as depression. Depression can make people anti-social, unresponsive and eventually isolate themselves. Even though you won’t receive a reply in English, dogs are actually great listeners and can help people open up. They can also make people feel less lonely, and loneliness tends to be a typical symptom of depression. Pets can improve the emotional, social and mental aspect of a human because they give people the feeling of being needed. It also encourages social interaction with other people, as they are more likely to share interests in animals too. Safety is a big insecurity that many people worry about these days, but larger pets, such as dogs can provide security and reassurance.

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With the ever-increasing pace in big cities and busy lifestyles, this can result in many people becoming stressed and having high-blood pressure. There are a number of problems which can result from high-blood pressure, including increased risk of heart attack. Studies show that people with pets had lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which resulted in a significantly reduced risk of heart attack. Studies have shown that even simply stroking pets can lower heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. Even something as little as watching fish in an aquarium can have a positive effect as it helps people to relax and is soothing.

People who may struggle with confidence and don’t enjoy going outside can benefit from having a pet dog as it can encourage them to get out more. Getting out and exercising is great for both physical and mental health. Physical exercise and being in sync with a pet can also have benefits to human health. Some vets have found that when prescribing a diet for a dog, turns out the owner has also shed a few pounds themselves after having a checkup-up some weeks later. This shows that when owners care for their pets diets, that it can also affect their own diet and physical health.

Pets can also help people cope with the loss of someone close. There are countless stories that have been mentioned in the media about someone trying to cope with the loss of a family member, and brought a pet into the home not long after their loved one had gone. The changes were quite significant in helping them to overcome grief. It goes back to having a good companion and preventing the feeling of loneliness. Pets, such as cats and dogs, can make people feel wanted as they need looking after and depend on them for food and shelter. It’s basic human instinct to feel the the need to nurture, so when there is a feeling of loss, pets can definitely help.

Medical establishments are slowly recognizing that animals can help with social interaction and can be used in a positive way for therapy. More animal associations and organizations are beginning to use volunteers to take dogs and cats to retirement centers, as well as childrens homes. Even schools and prisons are benefiting from animal therapy as it teaches children and adults about social support, along with how to look after and love someone or something. Studies show that interacting with animals can increase a hormone called Oxytocin, which makes us feel happy and trusting. Not only that, but pets could bring long term health benefits to humans as Oxytocin has powerful effects in helping people to heal and regenerate new cells in the body.

Animals can help break down physical and mental barriers that both adults and children can put up. Children who have had a troubled upbringing, or even prison inmates can benefit from using pets in therapy as people tend to be more at ease and more willing to share problems while handling an animal, whether it be a cat, bird or even a reptile! Being in an environment that makes people tense, such as a therapists office, can make people reluctant to open up. By having an animal present, it can really help break down walls and help people relax.

Using animals for physical rehabilitation after an accident or for muscle related diseases can really help in improving movement. Horses are becoming an increasingly popular animal to be used in therapeutic ways. The rider can benefit in more ways than one. Some people find comfort in bonding with a horse, others are helped by the movement while riding. Riding a horse can improve and build core strength, increase body awareness, as well as supporting muscle memory, which is great for rehabilitation. Even professionals such as speech therapists have found dramatic improvements in their patients when away from an office environment and using an animal to help communicate.

So, there are multiple benefits to owning a pet or using animals in therapy. They can help improve both physical health, as well mental health whether it be a temporary or permanent condition. They can improve moods, make people feel more at ease and can increase social interaction. Increasing Oxytocin levels in the body when in a relaxed and trusting mood can have very powerful long-term effects on health. If you want to improve your health and considered welcoming a pet into the home, then consider doing it sooner, rather than later as there are undoubtedly multiple benefits to having a pet.

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