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By: Isabella Bauer

Isabella BauerPets have been recognized as a source of therapy since the late 1800s. Dogs, cats, horses, and even hamsters can be used for therapeutic purposes. As a self-proclaimed animal lover, I never doubted a pet’s ability to heal. After all, what’s better than coming home to a friendly wagging tail or curling up in bed with a furry friend after a tough day? What I didn’t realize, however, is that animals can positively affect the quality of our lives.

Pet and OwnerWhile cuddling with any critter can be a serious stress reliever for animal lovers, it’s been reported that your animal companion may improve your heart health by lowering your blood pressure and heart rate during stressful situations. In fact, in a 2002 study, researchers found that study participants who had a dog or a cat were less likely to suffer from heart rate spikes while completing a stressful math problem and their heart rates and blood pressure returned to a normal rate faster than their counterparts who did not own any pets. Not only could your house cat or new dog help to naturally improve your heart health, but you could even use these benefits to convince your boss that you need your dog with you in the office to cope with stress. Sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Pets may also help improve your fitness regimen. In a research study conducted by Michigan State University, researchers tracked fitness habits of dog owners and non-dog owners. Almost half of the research participants who walked their dogs regularly exercised 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week versus only the third of research participants that exercised as often as dog owners. Dogs will always badger you to take them out for a walk whenever they need to go out, so hooray for finally being able to reach your daily step count on your Fitbit.

Cat and Owner

Find yourself attempting to cope with depression or anxiety? Pets may be able to help with that too. Pets have been shown to decrease harmful levels of cortisol, a stress hormone associated with depression and anxiety, and elevate the release of oxytocin, the “feel good” hormone. Not only can your fish or hamster help you relax at home, but if you have a pet that requires walking outside, this can also force you to engage in social interactions, which may help in meeting new people and brightening your spirits.

Whether you’re a cat person, dog person, or maybe even a hamster person, having a pet can give you more than a companion. Pets can improve your heart health, positively impact your fitness regimen, and even help cope with depression and anxiety. Pets truly are human’s best friend, so jump on the animal lover’s bandwagon—it’s good for you.

Isabella Bauer is a senior at James Madison University and is a Public Outreach Intern at AAPS.