We animals have been on the planet for much longer than you humans. It is only recently, by the calendar of evolution, that some of us have become “pets.” Interestingly, the dictionary has many definitions for the word “pet.” Namely:
- any domesticated or tamed animal that is kept as a companion and cared for affectionately.
- a person especially cherished or indulged; favorite: He was the teacher’s pet.
- a thing particularly cherished.
- kept or treated as a pet: a pet lamb.
- especially cherished or indulged, as a child or other person.
- favorite; most preferred: a pet theory.
- showing fondness or affection: to address someone with pet words.
Dogs and cats, in particular, have become favorite pets in America. This is strange insomuch that, from a purely economic perspective, we are a financial burden rather than an asset. So what is it that causes most of humans to adopt my brothers and sisters who will end up costing thousands of dollars? As it turns out, adopting us has a myriad of psychological and physical health benefits for humans.
Studies have shown that we and dogs in particular, help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. We teach you to live life in the moment. You see, we don’t spend time thinking about the past or worrying about the future. We are present every moment of our lives. We also teach you about unconditional love. We are always happy to see you and never judge you. We don’t care if you think you’re fat or thin; if your boss thinks you’re smart or dumb; if you’re employed or not; if you’re tall or short, etc. We just care to be with you.
Study after study has found that:
- Dog owners are less likely to suffer from depression than non-owners.
- Dog owners experience lower blood pressure when stressed than non-owners. In fact, according to numerous studies, people with borderline hypertension who adopted dogs from a shelter, saw their blood pressure decline significantly within five months. Moreover, a 1999 report from the State University of New York at Buffalo concluded that pet ownership is better at lowering blood pressure than ACE medication.
- Levels of serotonin and dopamine (the “pleasure” hormones) rise when playing with a dog or cat.
- Pet owners are less likely to be diabetic and suffer from heart diseases because they have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels than those without pets.
- People who have suffered a heart attack survive longer when they have a dog than those without.
- Pet owners age 65 and older visit their doctors 30% less often than those without pets.
- According to a study from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western University, women with HIV/AIDS manage their disease better when they are pet owners.
- A study of more than 2,000 adults conducted by the National Institute of Health found that dog owners responsible for walking their dogs were less likely to be obese than dog owners who pass the duty off to someone else or those who don’t own dogs at all.
Recently, we have even been introduced in prison system to help rehabilitate prisoners. These programs have found that even hardened criminals show long-term behavioral changes after interacting with my brothers and sisters. This is probably due to the fact that we fulfill the basic human need to touch. A loving touch, whether human or animal, can rapidly calm and soothe you when you’re stressed or anxious.
It is not just adults that benefit from pet ownership. Multiple studies show the benefit of pet-ownership for children. When children are properly supervised, caring for us can help them grow up to be more secure and active. They can also learn to be responsible, as well as develop a sense of compassion and empathy. Many studies, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, show that children with pets tend to develop stronger immune systems and hence are less prone to allergies and asthma. We provide a sense of security because we never criticize and don’t give orders … well, at least not verbally though, if properly trained, my brothers and sisters will certainly let you know that they need to go outside. Having us can help ease separation anxiety in children when the parents are not around. Taking care of us can also help a child develop a positive self-image. Lastly, studies have shown that children who grow up with us are more adept at developing relationships with other people.
While dog and cat “owners” can and do debate our merits, it is a fact that we dogs have evolved to become acutely attuned to you, as well as your behavior and emotions. In fact, we have evolved to understand many of the words you use, in whatever language you speak and some of us are even polyglots. My human speaks English, French and Spanish and I understand him in each. My little sister’ owners are Italian but she understands both English and Italian. We dogs have become adept at interpreting your tone of voice, body language, and gestures. While in the wild looking in the eye of another is a threat, we will look into your eyes to gauge your emotional state and try to understand what you’re thinking and feeling.
Pet ownership is, however, a large responsibility and far too many of my brothers and sisters get either mistreated or surrendered to a local shelter, or both. Every year more than 7 million of us enter the 13,600 shelters across the US. Of these, 2.7 million of us euthanized (and usually used as ingredients for commercial pet “food”), most because they cannot find a loving home through no fault of their own (see, http://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics). Remember that we can easily live 15 or 20 years, during which time we will need to be fed and cared for. In addition, medical expenses are likely to be incurred though these can be minimized with pet insurance plans which themselves require monthly payments. In addition to the expenses, we need to be exercised and the larger the breed generally the more exercise s/he will need. We also need to be considered when travelling. While there are usually plenty of kennels around, remember that we are emotionally attached to you and we are likely to suffer separation anxiety when separated from you for an extended period of time. Sometimes we can be destructive, particularly in the puppy phase, if not properly trained. Cats can spray urine to mark territories. We dogs also need to be properly trained so that we do not become aggressive to other pets, animals and people. It all requires time and money. According to the ASCPA, taking care of one of us will cost you somewhere between $580 and $875 per year, depending on our size. The cost is less for my sisters, the cats.
Remember to adopt from your local shelter rather than purchase from a local pet shop where we are most likely to come from backyard breeders who care little for our health and wellbeing (http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/puppy_mills/?referrer=https://www.google.com/). A local shelter is also preferable to a reputable breeder unless you intend to show us. If you do want a pure bred, there are plenty of rescue associations that can meet your needs. Always neuter or spay us… and love us as we love you.
- Anderson, Prof. Robert K. “The Changing Status of Animals and Human-Animal Bonds.” CENSHARE — The University of Minnestoa. 02/09/2010. http://www.censhare.umn.edu/spotlight02.html
- Gern, Dr. James E. “Effects of dog ownership and genotype on immune development and atopy in infancy.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 02/11/2004.
- Hodai, Beau. “Study: Dogs improve health of their human companions.” 01/23/2007. http://www.naturalnews.com/021483.html
- Homans, John. “The Rise of Dog Identity Politics.” New York Magazine. 02/01/2010. http://nymag.com/news/features/63232/
- McCartney, Dr. Jennifer. “Vet Talk: Health Benefits of Pet Ownership.” 02/16/2009. http://www.yorknewstimes.com/articles/2009/02/16/news/doc499863da54963000243651.txt
- McMahon, Kevin R. “Nursing home therapy dogs: courage givers, door openers and conversation starters.” McKnight’s Longterm Care News & Assisted Living. 05/11/2009. http://www.mcknights.com/nursing-home-therapy-dogs-courage-givers-door-openers-and-conversation-starters/article/136533/
- Mood Letter. “Pets and Mental Wellness.” 02/09/2010. http://www.oflikeminds.com/PetsandMentalHealth.htm
- Murray, Jill Sherer. “How Your Dog Can Help You Find Love.” Webvet. 08/01/2009. http://www.webvet.com/main/article?id=1347
- National Institute of Health. “Can Pets Keep You Healthy? Exploring the Human-Animal Bond.” 02/2009. http://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2009/February/feature1.htm
- Saloman, Laurie. “Can a Pet Help You Defeat Depression?” Quality Health. 04/06/2009. http://www.qualityhealth.com/depression-articles/pet-help-you-defeat-depression
- The Truth About Cats and Dogs: Pets Are Good for Mental Health of ‘Everyday People’, http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2011/07/cats-dogs.aspx
- Friends with Benefits: Pets Make Us Happier, Healthier, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-social-self/201107/friends-benefits-pets-make-us-happier-healthier
Happily caring for my 2-legged,