We’re a nation of animal lovers and, while pets aren’t for everyone, those of us who do share our lives with animals can’t stop raving about them. Our pets are cute, they’re funny, and we adore them. But did you know that they’re also good for our health? Here’s how.
A pet you love is a great stress-reliever. Something as simple as stroking a cat or a dog has been proven to lower blood pressure and calm an anxious mind. Stress is a huge problem in the modern world and has been linked to many health problems - including heart disease, sleep problems, obesity, depression, and more. So, however naughty your pet is, remember that the stress they cause is probably a lot less than the stress they take away from you!
Pets have an incredible effect upon our immune system. Children who grow up with pets (especially dogs and cats) tend to have fewer allergies and stronger immune systems than those who do not. This probably has a lot to do with all the other health benefits we’re talking about here (the better your health generally, the better your immune system will be as a whole). But many immunologists also think that pets ‘vaccinate’ children against common bacteria and allergens. For example, a dog bringing in microscopic amounts of pollen on its fur and paws can help to teach a young child’s immune system about pollen, making them less likely to have hayfever later in life.
Dogs probably take the lead on this one. Sorry, cat-people! Dogs demand a certain amount of exercise, which forces people who otherwise might spend all day sitting to strap on their walking boots and get out and about. Even the low-intensity exercise of taking a dog for a stroll round the block can do a surprising amount of good for a person’s cardiovascular health. Let’s be honest, anything that gets us up off the sofa and onto our feet is good news for our cardiovascular systems - and few things are better at making us move than our pets!
Relieving your stress, making you exercise, getting you out of the house, and boosting your immune system - all of these things can contribute to beating depression. But pets help us to shake off the shackles of depression in other ways, too. For a start, they provide us with the kind of unconditional love, acceptance, and companionship that’s crucial to tackling the feelings of worthlessness and loneliness which depression can bring. The power of this kind of thing should not be underestimated. For another, they rely upon us. Our pets give us a reason to get up in the morning and provide them with the care that they need. They drag us out of dangerous thought cycles with their antics and their cuddles, and they can even improve our social lives. All in all, it's hard for the Black Dog in your head to win out against the real dog in your lap.