Give your pet some extra attention this week because April 11 is National Pet Day! And our fondness for our furry, feathered, scaled or finned friends isn’t the only reason to celebrate. Pets benefit our physical, mental, and social health in measurable ways. Here are just a few of the positives that pets bring:
- Companionship – Pets offer great companionship! And it’s not just the friendly face or wagging tail waiting for you at the end of a long day. Pets offer increased opportunities for socialization with other humans as well as decreased feelings of loneliness and increased feelings of social support.
- Treatment for Certain Disorders – We have long used service animals to support those with vision impairment, epilepsy, PTSD, and other disorders. However, a variety of studies have shown the positive effects of animal interactions on other disorders as well. For instance, young people with autism showed improved social functioning and decreased anxiety after playing with guinea pigs. Children with diabetes were more disciplined about monitoring their own condition after caring for pet fish. Kids diagnosed with ADHD experienced fewer behavioral problems after reading to a dog. Our animal friends help in so many ways!
- Reduced Risks of Heart Disease – Having a pet may contribute to lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides levels. This may be due to the increased activity level that comes from walking and playing with your pet. It might also be attributed to the calming influence pets can have, helping owners reduce and manage stress that can contribute to heart disease.
- Teach Responsibility – Our pets need consistent care. They rely on us for food, water, a good home, lots of love, and more. Including your children in a pet care routine can help your kiddos develop the responsibility necessary in all facets of life. In fact, a 2015 study showed that pet care helped teens develop the discipline to better care for their own type 1 diabetes – a medical condition that requires consistent monitoring. Enrolling your children in pet-related 4-H projects is a great way to build this important life skill. Projects might include dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, or small pets.
- Emotional Well-being – In addition to the stress reduction mentioned above, there is some evidence to suggest pets can help increase mindfulness, decrease anxiety, and foster empathy and trust. Plus, animals can support our emotional intelligence by nurturing our ability to experience and regulate emotions.
- University of Illinois Extension – Pets: Care, Costs, & Cuddles
- NIH (National Institutes of Health)
- Harvard Health Publishing – Why Having a Pet is Good for Your Health
- Michigan State university Extension – The Benefits of a Family Pet