Simply stroking an animal lowers levels of cortisol – a stress hormone which can damage the body.
Some people describe themselves as dog owners, some as cat owners but as most pet owners will know – the ownership within a pet-owner relationship truly is a blurred line. I’m under no illusions – they are normally the boss and call the shots.
That’s because we’re a nation of pet lovers at heart. Many households have a pet these days, it’s estimated that in the UK it’s around 46% with a pet population standing at 65 million or so. There’s many reasons why people have pets – companionship, friendship, exercise to name but a few but behind the veneer of the obvious reasons lie some really interesting health advantages that we humans, as pet owners, can really benefit from.
A study conducted in 2003, in the American Journal of Cardiology found that men who had suffered a heart attack were far more likely to be alive, four years on, if they owned a dog. In 1999, a study of stockbrokers with hypertension was carried out where half were told to adopt a cat or dog. Six months into the study, the pet owners showed a significant reduction in blood pressure in comparison to the other half of the stockbrokers.
Why? There are several health benefits associated with pet ownership, beyond the obvious link with exercise, which dog walking brings.
A boost in oxytocin, the hormone which promotes love and trust – linked to reduced blood pressure and heart rate. This happens just by looking at our animal companions.
Lower levels of cortisol – a stress hormone which can damage the body.
Increased levels of dopamine – a hormone which makes you feel good and self confident
A heightened level of immunoglobulin A – an antibody that bolsters the immune system.
The unconditional love of a pet and their unwavering acceptance of you is a key element. No matter what, there’s always a furry friend eager to see you come through that front door or a purring scamp awaiting the warmth of curling up on your lap. People come with conditions and expectations, pets will take you for who you are.
Touch is another key element and while you might expect that to be associated with the touch of fur, it’s just as beneficial for snake owners as it is for owners of fluffy pets. This touch of another being is the key factor in the reductions in blood pressure associated with pets. It’s a win-win situation too – you get to make your pet happy while stoking them. In an increasingly sterile environment, pets also help children grow up with less chance of allergies.
While outside, the pet will be picking up all sorts of microbes and bringing these back into the house. Researchers have found that children exposed to such an environment in their early infancy grow up to have less chance of developing allergies and asthma due to their earlier exposure and conditioning of their immune systems.
A new study revealed that homes with dogs have greater bacterial diversity than canine-free dwellings. Dog-related diversity is particularly high on television screens and pillowcases, the researchers found. The microbes in our home environment are the subject of increased interest by scientists, thanks to studies revealing how intertwined human lives are with microbes.
So next time you’re feeling a little low, just think of your pet. The act of conjuring their image and associated thoughts is often catalyst enough to bring on many of the health benefits listed above. Just don’t forget they need your attention as much as you need theirs!