The Health Benefits of Having a Pet

Companion animals make us feel better. It isn’t just that your cat, dog, gerbil or horse loves you unconditionally, whether you made a mistake or are sick or depressed. Companion animals actually improve our health in measurable ways.

Prevention shares some of the research on pets and improved health:

The research proves it. In a study at the State University of New York at Buffalo, women asked to solve a math equation with their dogs nearby experienced less stress than women who worked near a human pal. “When you interact with a friendly animal, your blood pressure lowers and your muscles relax,” explains Stanley Coren, PhD, a psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher at the University of British Columbia who has published nine books on the connection between people and animals.

On a chemical level, owning a pet may also decrease levels of cortisol (a stress hormone that can damage your body) in your blood and raise levels of the feel-good brain chemical dopamine, meaning you’ll feel better emotionally—you’ll be happier and more positive. To maximize your pet’s health-boosting powers, don’t just vent your troubles aloud to your animal—reach out and pet him. People who pet dogs experience an uptick in immunoglobulin A, an antibody that bolsters the immune system.

Animals also shower us with love. As one woman wrote about a recent illness she had and her pets’ response:

I wondered if they had somehow detected the virus in my body. After all, dogs are able to sniff out cancer and diabetes. Patting a dog can lower your blood pressure. And a cat’s purr is precisely calibrated to healing decibels. Or, maybe they just sensed that I wasn’t feeling well, and did what came naturally–covered me with love.

At Cliffside Malibu, we keep wonderful dogs on the grounds and allow individuals to bring small dogs to treatment with them. There is no denying the joy that comes from a sloppy dog “kiss” or a cat’s purr. If you want to get healthier, consider rescuing an animal from your local shelter. You’ll save a life and make yours better.