Most people contemplating adopting a companion animal want to gain a lifelong friend, playmate, and beloved member of the family. And while our companion animals certainly do all of those things, there are many not-so-obvious health benefits to sharing our lives with pets.
For nearly a quarter of a century, research has shown that living with a companion animal has many significant health benefits such as lower risk of heart disease and improved immunity to illness. When people are stressed, their bodies release chemicals such as cortisol and norepinephrine which can negatively affect the immune system. Studies have shown a link between these chemicals and plaque build-up in the arteries, which is a red flag for heart disease. Playing with an animal reduces stress and lessens anxiety by elevating the levels of two 'happy chemicals' in the brain, serotonin and dopamine. So, living with an animal can help protect our bodies from stress-related health problems. Perhaps the saying should be, 'An animal a day keeps the doctor away.'
And that's not all – studies also show that people who own dogs get more exercise than those who don't. By walking, jogging, playing catch or Frisbee, and doing other activities with their dogs, dog owners are more likely to meet fitness goals.
Besides being good for our health, adopting a companion animal helps children develop positive personality traits such as responsibility and accountability as they help provide care for the animal. They also learn to empathise and to respect other beings. Animals make devoted companions for children, and many children report that their animals helped them get through a move, loss of a loved one, starting a new school, or other tough situations.
The strong bond that we form with our companion animals provides a lifetime of comfort and happiness for the animals, and for us.