Pet Therapy

catpawinhandHow pets can affect mood and health

While most pet owners are clear about the immediate joys  that come with sharing their lives with companion animals, many remain unaware  of the physical and mental health benefits that can also accompany the pleasure  of playing with or snuggling up to a furry friend. It’s only recently that  studies have begun to scientifically explore the benefits of the human-animal  bond. Studies have found that:

 

  • Pet  owners are less likely to suffer from depression than those without pets.
  • People  with pets have lower blood pressure in stressful situations than those without  pets.
  • Playing  with a pet can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.
  • Pet  owners have lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels (indicators of heart  disease) than those without pets.
  • Heart  attack patients with pets survive longer than those without.
  • Pet  owners over age 65 make 30 percent fewer visits to their doctors than those  without pets.
  • A  pet doesn’t have to be a dog or a cat. Even watching fish in an aquarium can  help reduce muscle tension and pulse rate.

One of the reasons for these therapeutic effects is that most  pets fulfill the basic human need to touch. Even hardened criminals in prison  have shown long-term changes in their behavior after interacting with pets,  many of them experiencing mutual affection for the first time. Stroking,  holding, cuddling, or otherwise touching a loving animal can rapidly calm and  soothe us when we’re stressed. The companionship of a pet can also ease  loneliness, and some pets are a great stimulus for healthy exercise, which can substantially  boost mood.

How pets can help to make healthy lifestyle changes

Adopting healthy lifestyle changes can play an important  role in easing symptoms of depression, stress, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and  anxiety. Caring for a pet can help with those healthy lifestyle changes by:

  • Increasing exercise. Exercise doesn’t  have to involve boring repetition at a gym. Taking a dog for a walk, riding a  horse, or simply chasing a kitten around are fun ways to fit healthy daily  exercise into your schedule.
  • Providing companionship. Isolation and  loneliness can make disorders such as depression even worse. Caring for a living  animal can help make you feel needed and wanted, and take the focus away from  your problems. Most pet owners talk to their pets, some even use them to work  through their troubles.
  • Helping meet new people. Pets can be a  great social lubricant for their owners. Dog owners frequently stop and talk to  each other on walks or in a dog park. Pet owners also meet new people in pet  stores, clubs, and training classes.
  • Reducing anxiety. The companionship of  a dog can offer comfort, help ease anxiety, and build self-confidence for  people anxious about going out into the world.
  • Adding structure and routine to your day. Many pets, especially dogs, require a regular feeding and exercise schedule. No  matter your mood—depressed, anxious, or stressed—you’ll always have to get out  of bed to feed, exercise, and care for your pet.
  • Providing sensory stress relief. Touch  and movement are two healthy ways to quickly manage stress. This could involve  petting a cat or taking a dog for a walk.

Pets and older adults

The key to aging well is to effectively handle life’s major  changes, such as retirement, the loss of loved ones, and the physical changes  of aging. Pets can play an important role in healthy aging by:

  • Helping you find meaning and joy in life. As you age, you’ll lose things that previously occupied your time and gave your  life purpose. You may retire from your career or your children may move far  away. Caring for a pet can bring pleasure and help boost your morale and  optimism. Taking care of an animal can also provide a sense of self-worth.
  • Staying connected. Maintaining a social  network isn’t always easy as you grow older. Retirement, illness, death, and  moves can take away close friends and family members. And making new friends  can get harder. Dogs especially are a great way for seniors to spark up conversations  and meet new people.
  • Boosting vitality. You can overcome  many of the physical challenges associated with aging by taking good care of  yourself. Pets encourage playfulness, laughter, and exercise, which can help boost  your immune system and increase your energy.

Pets and children

Not only do children who grow up with pets have less risk of  allergies and asthma, many also learn responsibility, compassion, and empathy  from having pets. Unlike parents, pets are never critical and don’t give  orders. They are always loving and their mere presence at home can help provide  a sense of security in children. Having an ever-present dog or cat, for  example, can help ease separation anxiety in children when mom and dad aren’t  around. Studies have also shown that pets can help calm hyperactive or overly  aggressive kids. Of course, both the pet and the child need to be trained to  behave appropriately with each other.

Children and adults alike can benefit from playing with pets,  which can be both a source of calmness and relaxation, as well as a source of  stimulation for the brain and body. Playing with a pet can even be a doorway to  learning for a child. It can stimulate a child’s imagination and curiosity. The  rewards of training a dog to perform a new trick, for example, can teach kids the  importance of perseverance. Caring for a furry friend can also offer another  benefit to a child: immense joy.

Children with learning and other disorders

Some children with autism or other learning difficulties are  better able to interact with pets than people. Autistic children often rely on nonverbal  cues to communicate, just as pets do. And learning to first connect with a cat  or dog, for example, may even help an autistic child in their interactions with  people.

  • Pets  can help children with learning disabilities learn how to regulate stress and  calm themselves, making them better equipped to overcome the challenges of  their disorder.
  • Playing and exercising with a  pet can help a child with learning disorders stay alert and attentive  throughout the day. It can also be a great antidote to stress and frustration  caused by the learning disability.
  • Learning to ride a horse can help elevate the  self-esteem of disabled children, putting them on a more equal level with kids  without disabilities.
Not Ready to Own a Pet… Become a Foster!
Beamsville 4Paw Rescue has a Foster Program that provides all the food and supplies.