Happy summer, everyone - July 30th is International Friendship Day! And it’s appropriate that we celebrate friendship in summer: school is finally out and kids have free time to spend playing games, going outside, and just being kids in general. But especially, summer is the time to spend time with - and make new - friends!
While this day was created by the UN with human friends in mind, we shouldn’t forget to celebrate our furry, scaly, and feathered friends! Over ⅔ of families in the USA have pets in their homes, and we’re betting a good percentage of those families love their pets more than most people. But did you know that pets aren’t just good friends? Pets and the activity of caring for pets can provide health benefits for you and your kids!
And the benefits aren’t just the exercise you get when you walk your pet (although that’s definitely very important!). There are all KINDS of benefits to having a pet that fits your lifestyle and petcare abilities.
Here are 4 ways that having pets and properly caring for pets can boost your health:
It’s not just in your head: when you’re around your pet, your stress really does just melt away. An article from Johns Hopkins states that petting dogs “lowers the stress hormone cortisol, while the social interaction between people and their dogs actually increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin (the same hormone that bonds mothers to babies).” So not only are you removing stress, you’re adding feel-good hormones to the mix!
That increase in oxytocin and decrease in cortisol can lower your blood pressure, too! In addition, dog owners get more exercise than their non-dog-owning counterparts: a study in the UK showed that dog owner’s chances of meeting the daily requirement of 150 minutes/week of exercise were “four times greater” than those of their counterparts. The AKC further states that “Dog owners spend nearly 300 minutes every week walking with their dogs. That’s 200 more minutes walking than people without a pup of their own.”
And if you put these effects together, the benefits get even broader. If you have less stress and are getting more quality exercise on a regular basis, then your heart is doing less work. As such, dog ownership has been linked to better heart health by many studies; some studies even link dog ownership with decreased health risks in general.
When we come home from work, one of the things many pet owners look forward to is their beloved furbaby bounding over to see them. That kind of unconditional love and attachment is hard to replace and much harder to live without. We, as mammals, are inherently social creatures - and dogs in our homes provide some of that companionship.
Dr. Greg Fricchione, director of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, says in an article for Harvard Health Publishing, “We do best medically and emotionally when we feel securely attached to another, because we’re mammals and that’s the way we’ve evolved… When you feel securely attached to this living being, there are biological brain effects that reduce stress response, so that it may affect your breathing rate or blood pressure or oxygen consumption or anxiety level.”
These effects are perhaps the most prevalent in the elderly, among whom loneliness and depression are rampant. Some studies even report that, for some participants, pets are the reason their owners get up in the morning.
From strangers asking to pet your puppy to meeting people at the local pet shop, pets can help bolster our social lives. A 2015 study asserts that pets “can be a catalyst for several dimensions of human social relationships in neighborhood settings,” which can be helpful in fending off feelings of isolation.
In children, interacting with animals can immediately help them interact with their classmates, among other benefits. An article from NIH details a couple such studies: the first study found that children with ADHD who read to dogs (as opposed to puppets of dogs) showed better social skills and had fewer behavioral problems. Another study found that children with autism spectrum disorder were calmer and more engaged with their peers more after having supervised playtime with guinea pigs. Dr. James Griffin, a child development expert at NIH, states that “Animals can become a way of building a bridge for those social interactions.”
The science surrounding human-animal interactions is evolving and relatively new - so while these findings are promising (and serve as a great rationale for convincing your significant other to adopt that puppy you’ve been wanting!), they are still preliminary.
As always, before adopting a pet for health reasons, make sure that you or the pet’s owner will have the mobility, strength, time, and resources to take care of that pet long-term.
Hey, Nick and Mandy Burnham here. We breed our Golden Retrievers, but we aren’t your usual breeding family. Awareness of unethical puppy mills has increased in recent times, and breeders aren’t accepted. We don’t blame people for calling them out. We call them out as well.