A Furry Friend a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

By Bethany Nickerson, LMSW

Growing up I never had pets. A neighborhood dog chased me home from school one day and it terrified me. For many years I was scared of dogs and went out of my way to avoid them. It wasn’t until I moved out on my own and in with someone who had a huge dog that I started to work on my fear. Then in 2013 a friend came to stay with me and brought with him a teeny tiny puppy named Hugo. From the moment I met that little guy we were bonded together. I would rush home from work to play with him and he would follow me all over the house. My friend found his own place and the time came for him and Hugo to move. I was devastated. The day before he was set to move out he came and told me that he would like to give me Hugo. Needless to say, the rest is history.

I think its safe to say that most people can list many reasons why their life is better because of their furry friends. I decided I wanted to do some research about how companion animals benefit our health. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there has been a fair amount of articles written on this topic. Learn more below: 

  1. Better outcomes in patients with heart disease. There was a very interesting study that followed up with patients one year after they were discharged from a coronary care unit. The patients who had companion animals were more likely to be alive than those who did not. “Because coronary heart disease is a stress-related disease research suggested that the protective effect of pet ownership is due to its effects on psychological risk factors” (Patronek and Glickman 1993). 
     
  2. Increased social support. It's well known that lack of social support is a big risk factor for subsequent physical and psychological issues. Companion animals not only provide support by reducing loneliness and providing unconditional love, they also “act as facilitators of social interactions between other human beings” (Beck and Katcher, 2003; Kruger and Serpell, 2006; McNicholas and Collis, 2006). There are few things that unite people like talking about their beloved pets!
     
  3. Higher (self report) life satisfaction and perceived health (Norris et al, 1999). 
     
  4. Elevated levels of Oxytocin (the “love hormone). Increased Oxytocin levels are associated with improved bonding with others, reduced aggression, more empathy and improved learning. 

I’ve always knows that Hugo makes my life better, but now I can prove it with science! If you are looking to improve you health and happiness try spending more time with your pets or volunteering at an animal shelter. 

References: 

  • O’Haire, Marguerite. (2010). Companion animals and human health: Benefits, challenges, and the road ahead. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 5(5), 226-234.
  • Takashima, G., & Day, M. (2014). Setting the One Health Agenda and the Human-Companion Animal Bond. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 11(11), 11110-11120.

Bethany Nickerson is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.