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Why Pets Are So Good For Your Health

According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), pet owners spent a record-breaking $72.56 billion on their pets in 2018, shattering the previous record held just a year earlier. On average, Americans spend $126.19 every month on their pets, according to a recent survey of one thousand pet owners.

The reason for this is simple: We LOVE our pets.

Whether furry, fluffy, slithery or kind of creepy (looking at you, tarantula owners), pets are an indelible part of life for pet owners. That’s why most dogs and cats have more toys and treats than they know what to do with. It’s fun to spoil them.

Yes, pets are a lot of work. You have to train them, feed them, clean up after them, make sure they’re safe, ensure they have any medication they need, and so on. It can feel like having a child at times (hence the reason some people have taken to calling their pets “fur babies”). But the benefits far outweigh the obligations.

And that’s because the happiness they bring us really cannot be overstated. In fact, most people -- even pet owners -- don’t know just how beneficial our pets can be for our health and overall well-being.

So today, we’re going to talk about some of the lesser-known positive features about pet ownership, and why pets can be so good for your health. If you’ve been hesitant about getting a new, four-legged friend, take a look at this. I’m sure by the end you’ll agree that, given all the wonderful ways pets can impact your life, they’re more than worth the trouble.

Pets Keep You Active

Now, this may not apply if you own a goldfish, but overall, pets can be an excellent excuse to get out and get some exercise! Dogs are the most obvious example here -- every dog needs a daily walk to stay happy and healthy, and so do we!

Experts say you should strive for about 30 minutes of walking a day, 5 days a week. But if you find it difficult to get up from the couch after a long day, a dog may be just what you need! It’s a lot harder to neglect that walk around the neighborhood if your four-legged friend is whining for some outdoor time!

Get into a routine with your dog so that you walk a certain amount of time every day. This will keep both of you happy and healthy. As the old saying goes, “If your dog is fat, you’re not getting enough exercise!”

Pets Stop You From Feeling Lonely

Many of my patients are “empty nesters,” meaning their children have all grown up and left home. And a portion of those patients are now living completely by themselves. If this describes you or someone you love, I can’t recommend enough getting a pet to care for.

That’s because when we feel lonely, it can have a seriously adverse effect on our mental health. In adults, loneliness is a major precipitant of depression and alcoholism. Dogs, cats, hamsters, birds -- really any kind of pet -- can help offset that feeling of loneliness. Pets make great companions, and most of them are keenly in-tune with your emotions.

Not to mention, a good pet always has your back. So if you need to vent about a coworker or a particular stress in your life, they’re always eager to listen. Just make sure you’ve got som extra treats nearby.

Pets Help Lower Stress Levels  

Life is full of stress. Work, family, politics, traffic… it’s wave after wave, every day. So if you’r feeling anxious, overwhelmed or frustrated, you’re not alone. But the remedy may not be a pill -- it could be a few scratches on your pet’s head.

That’s right, stroking your cat or even watching your goldfish swim lazily in his bowl could seriously help alleviate stress.They ease anxiety, depression and loneliness while encouraging playfulness -- all of which are great for your cardiovascular health.

In fact, several studies have shown dog owners have lower blood pressure than non-owners, likely due to the calming effect they have, coupled with the fact that dog owners usually get more exercise. And there’s some evidence to suggest dog owners are less likely to suffer from high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Pets bring smiles to our faces; we all know that. And now the science is showing just how beneficial those smiles can be for our hearts and minds.

Pets Allow For Opportunities To Socialize More

Socialization is important, especially as we get older. We’ve already discussed the impact loneliness can have on a person. One of the best ways to prevent loneliness is to be engaged in social circles, and owning a pet can be a great facilitator of that!

The pet owner community is usually very friendly. Go to a dog park on any given day and you’ll see many people chatting away more freely than you’ll find in most places. Perfect strangers will stop you on the street to compliment (and probably pet) your dog. This is all great because it encourages you to be more engaged with society.

A new study even found that pets can help create human-to-human friendships and social support, both of which are critical for long-term health. The study explored how pets help people form social connections, and discovered being a pet owner was the third most common way the survey respondents said they met people in their neighborhoods.

And thanks to the advent of social media, you don’t always need to leave your house to join these communities! There are groups all over the internet where people with the same kind of pets interact, share stories and exchange advice. It doesn’t matter if you own a poodle or a parakeet, there’s a group waiting for you!

Pets Help You Sleep Better

For pet owners, it can be heartbreaking having to kick your furry pal off the bed so you can go to sleep. And interestingly enough, a lot of owners don’t even bother: One survey found that 55% of dog owners let their dogs sleep in their bed; the same was true for 31% of cat owners.

Turns out, there may be something to cozying up with your pet at night. Being around our pets helps release oxytocin, the “love chemical.” And these chemicals promote theta brainwaves, which are known to occur during the REM stage of sleep.

Furthermore, letting your four-legged friends into your bed with you has been shown to ease insomnia, increase your sense of security, and maximize your comfort!  Just make sure you have a bed that’s big enough so you two aren’t jockeying for position all night!

Pets are a huge responsibility, and there are bound to be moments of frustration. But the love they provide and the tremendous benefits to your health that results is well worth it.

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