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How pets improve our physical and mental health

How pets improve our physical and mental health

If you prefer the company of dogs or cats to people, you are not alone. Coming home to a wagging tail, a nudge from a cold nose or the rumble of a greeting purr often feels like a relief from the constant hum of duties and obligations. What we may not realize is that these relaxing effects our pets have on our mood is physically measurable.

Physical benefits of animal companionship

Studies have shown numerous health benefits resulting from the bond between humans and their pets. These include decreased blood pressure and a lower risk of developing heart disease, according to the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Having a pet in your home can also help you be more active, further improving your physical health and lowering your risks of developing chronic illness. Getting regular exercise is not only good for your pet, it’s good for you, too!

How pets improve our mental health

While animal companions are proven to improve our physical health, they also can help improve feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. While simply having a loving companion can help fend of sadness, the increased activity a pet encourages also helps to improve mental health. Getting outside for a brisk walk in the fresh air, spending time exploring parks and trails, or simply taking your pet for a drive with the windows down can lower your stress and release feel-good chemicals in your brain such as dopamine and oxytocin.

Pets provide a sense of purpose

Another great benefit our animal companions can provide us is a sense of purpose. Unlike wild or feral animals, our domesticated pets depend on us for food, shelter, water, and feelings of security and affection. Having an animal who trusts you to provide them a good-quality life with varied exposure to new places and smells results in a mutually beneficial friendship that can keep you healthier and happier.

Don’t have a pet but want to tap into the benefits of animal companionship?

There are many ways to get involved with animals without taking on the responsibility of pet ownership. If the cost of adopting a pet is not an option for you, try these ideas to get involved in the animal-loving community in your area:

  1. Volunteer at your local human society or animal shelter.
  2. Apply to foster a dog or cat for a short time while the animal is waiting to be adopted.
  3. Visit a local farm with horses, or sign up for therapeutic horseback riding lessons.
  4. Take a walk through your local dog park to visit with your neighbors’ dogs and watch them play.
  5. Offer to pet sit for friends or coworkers who have animals when they go out of town.
  6. Go to a local garden or arboretum to spot wildlife and listen for birdsong.

The BCH Canine Corps offers pet therapy to our patients.

Did you know that BCH offers pet therapy to patients throughout our hospital and clinics? We know how beneficial animal companionship can be, and we are committed to offering the best care possible to our community. The BCH Canine Corps currently has 40 volunteer therapy dog teams who visit with staff and patients every day. The next time you or a loved one visits our Foothills Hospital campus, look out for the teams in blue uniform!

Needing more than just self-care? Talk to a primary care provider.