Pets are good for our health. That’s the conclusion of researchers that study human-animal interaction, who say our furry friends boost emotional and physical well-being.
Countless studies have shown the many benefits of having pets, from social bonding and relaxation to improving cardiovascular health.
Therapy animals, particularly dogs, are trained to help people deal with such issues as stress, anxiety, trauma, loneliness and depression.
Indeed, dogs are now found in hospitals, nursing homes – including the Pines Retirement Home – hospice-care settings, classrooms, airports and elsewhere.
In short, pets can help make us feel better.
“Stroking your pet has a calming effect,” says Cayman health and wellness coach Alicia Proud, who offers therapy with her rescue dog Fox, among other services. “When you’re feeling stressed out or a little anxious, the best thing you can do is gently stroke and give cuddles to your pet.”
It’s been especially helpful during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with pets providing company and comfort in times of isolation and anxiety.
“Many people adopted and fostered pets as the majority of us were working from home, having more time and energy to invest in a pet,” says Proud. “Dogs and cats can reduce stress, anxiety and depression, ease loneliness, encourage exercise and playfulness, which is all that we need a little of during the pandemic.”
Scientists believe the major source of people’s positive reactions to dogs comes from oxytocin, also known as the ‘love hormone’.
Research has shown that when humans interact with dogs, oxytocin levels increase in both species.
Interaction with pets and the companionship they provide promotes emotional well-being.
“Pets are far more in tune with our emotions, more often before we even realise what is happening,” says Proud.
“Many people with learning difficulties and physical impairments have animals in their homes, as they are often one step ahead of their owners,” she says. “They can sense a seizure, a disease, or just a down day. I love this amazing power animals have – they can make us smile, laugh, cry, and even save
Pets also provide increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities.
“Physically, having a dog keeps you active and gives you purpose every day to wake up and get moving,” says Proud, who goes for daily walks with Fox, and her latest rescue, Simba.
“There are so many benefits to walking in nature and having a companion makes it more enjoyable,” she says. “I explore so much with my dogs – name an off-road track in West Bay and I’ve been there.”
And there’s nothing quite like the affection, meaning and joy pets can bring to our lives.
“Pets provide us with the unconditional love that many of us need and enjoy,” says Proud. “They just love us, whoever we are.”