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Around 23 million American households adopted Pandemic pets since 2020. And 90.5 million US families currently have a pet. That’s ~ 70% of the population. Which must mean we really think pets are special. So, if you don’t have one already, let’s cover some reasons for getting a pet.
Reasons for Getting a Pet: Adults
Mental Health Benefits
- Reduce Stress and Anxiety: Petting an animal is known to release oxytocin, promoting feelings of happiness and love. It also reduces cortisol and increases serotonin. Which then lowers blood pressure and heart rate, which is also calming.
- Help for PTSD: One study found that pets relieve anxiety by adding comfort while reducing feelings of loneliness.
- Better Cancer Management: Pets can help cancer patients manage their treatment and emotions. Some patients even report that their visits are better with therapy animals.
Physical Health Benefits
- Lower Blood Pressure: The American Heart Association found a connection between owning a dog and lower blood pressure. That’s likely because dog owners who walk their dogs will probably reach the advised level of physical activity than pet owners who don’t walk.
- Cardiovascular Health: Similarly, dog owners have a lower risk of death than non-dog owners following a major cardiovascular event, like heart attacks or stroke.
- Pain Relief: Our pets can distract us. In some ways that can be bad. But in a lot of ways that can be great! Take pain, for instance: Spending time with our pets, playing with them, or just petting them can distract us from chronic pain. Or our pets can get us moving around, not focused on pain.
- Social Catalyst: Pets have been referred to as “social capital.” People are more apt to know their neighbors if they have pets than if they don’t.
- Better Marriages: Studies report that couples who have cats or dogs have closer relationships. Additionally, they’re more satisfied in their marriages and respond better to stress than not pet-owners.
- Find Love: Some people believe their pets can even help them find romance. Further, some singles choose potential matches based on whether there’s a pet. Or how he or she treats their own pet.
- Improves Work Life: One study revealed that employees that brought their dogs to work were more engaged. Also, they were more dedicated and had more work-based friendships.
- Increases Creativity: Maybe you’re familiar with the Amazon Prime movie The Electrical Life of Louis Wain? It’s based on a true story. Mr. Wain was an artist and first started painting cats to cheer up his wife. However, after she died, Wain continued to be inspired by cats. Other artists likewise inspired by their pets were O’keefe, Picasso, Matisse, Andy Warhol, and Norman Rockwell.
Reasons for Getting a Pet: Children
Benefits for ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder
- More Positive Outcomes for ASD: Having a pet could help children diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder. Purdue did a study on the effect guinea pigs had with children diagnosed with autism. And animal-assisted activities had positive results for kids with ASD, including smiling. Also, children hospitalized with ASD interacted more with a therapy dog than with toys. Furthermore, they smiled and talked more. And interacting with the therapy dog resulted in looking at peers and adults.
- Help Kids With ADHD: Having children diagnosed with ADHD read to their pet could help them focus. A study had 2 groups of children diagnosed with ADHD. One group read to a therapy dog 30 minutes a week for 12 weeks. And the other group read to puppets that looked like dogs. The results of the study showed that the kids who read to the real dogs had better social skills and fewer behavioral issues.
Benefits for Child Development
- Emotional Wellness: Having a pet has been shown to decrease anxiety in children, specifically separation and social anxiety disorders.
- More Confidence and Resilience: Children who have pets can talk to them easily, without fear of rejection. And that helps kids gain confidence. Pets listen without criticism or judgment.
- Better Self Esteem: Kids with pets report better self esteem than those without pets.
- Higher Self Concept Scores: Children who got pets either in early childhood or adolescence have a better self concept.
- Teach Responsibility and Self Reliance: Having pets creates an opportunity to teach kids to be responsible. Since kids generally love animals, it’s a great way to show them how to take care of something.
- Aid in the Learning Process: Pets help kids develop empathy and emotions. In addition, pets help kids succeed at school-related tasks.
- Improve Education: 3 to 6 year old children, who had bonds with their pets, were more verbally intelligent than their peers without pets.
- Reduce Stress: Having and actually interacting with a pet increases levels of oxytocin while reducing cortisol. Therefore, this benefit happens not only with adults, but with kids too.
- Improve Immunity: If pets are introduced at a young age, they lower a child’s risk of future allergies and asthma.
Reasons for Getting a Pet: Older Adults
- Slows Cognitive Decline: A recent study has shown that longterm pet ownership can delay cognitive decline. And that includes dogs, cats, fish, hamsters, bunnies, etc.
- Decreased Agitation: Studies show that patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s are more engaged when there are resident pets. And the patients have fewer problem behaviors and increased social interactions. Whether the pet is a robotic dog or real dog, the results are the same. Additionally, in the 1990s, Bill Thomas revolutionized the nursing home industry in upstate New York by bringing in live animals and plants. The results were amazing: the patients helped take care of the plants and animals. Then they started dressing themselves, and infections and prescriptions decreased.
- Improved Health: A study in the Netherlands showed that older adults, who had a dog, were more physically active. Also, they had more social engagements. But this was just for dog owners, likely because they walked their dogs. Further, in another study, older pet owners had better overall health than their counterparts, regardless of walking the pet. They had less arthritis, healthier weight, and decreased incidents of congestive heart failure.
Pets are a Big Commitment
But, before you buy a new puppy for grandma, remember that pets aren’t a miracle cure for everything. Even if we think they are. Therefore, whether you know someone who could benefit from a pet, or you want one, there’s a few things to go over.
- Pets Cost Money: They are a lifelong financial commitment. From food, vet care, toys, bedding, boarding, and grooming to anything else that could come up. And if the pet is going to an elderly person on a fixed income, this could be overwhelming.
- Time and Attention: Some pets require more time and attention than others. Dogs need to be walked, while rabbits need constant vigilance, so they don’t chew through things. But there are other pets that require only a minimal amount of attention and care.
- Can Hinder Your Social Life: If you have a pet, you can’t go away for a quick weekend, unless you have someone who can watch your pets.
- Pets Can Tear Things Up: At times, there will be accidents. Though, pets left alone for long periods of time, especially energetic pets or pets that have abandonment issues, may continue to get into and tear things up.
- Pets Need to be Handled Properly: Any pet has the ability of hurting someone if not handled responsibly. So, it’s important that parents take the time to train children how to interact with their pets.
- Pets Carry Health Risks: Some people are immunocompromised, so they should always check with their doctor. But the most common health risks are allergies. However there are hypoallergenic pets.
If, after considering all of the above, and you still want a pet, then you need to think of what kind you want. Some people don’t know what kind to get. And others don’t know the size or breed. Although there are alternatives to owning a pet. For example, you could foster an animal that you think you would like. That way you could find out if that kind of pet would be a good fit. Or you could volunteer at a shelter. Here’s a great article if you’re already considering a pet.
There are so many benefits to owning a pet: Mental, physical, and social advantages foremost among them. And I know that our pets continually increase oxytocin and serotonin in me. Because I always feel better just by watching them.
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