Caring for pets improves mental and heart health, showing the positive impact of this nurturing connection.
It is hardly surprising that pet ownership had an upward spike during 2020 when majority of the world was confined to their homes, many of whom found that acquiring a furry (or feathered) companion was the best way to cope with the fear and dread of an unknown future. According to the American Pet Products Association, pet ownership rose from 67% of US households to an all-time high of 70%. Based on a 2021 Rakuten Insight survey, the Philippines has the highest rate of pet ownership among the Southeast Asian Countries at 83%, the breakdown of which is 67% dogs, 43% cats, 13% fish and 10% birds. Among the Filipino owners 38% reported that Covid-19 made them purchase or adopt their first pet, if not add another one to their household.
I happily contributed to the abovementioned statistic when I got my second dog (a pandemic born pup) towards the end of 2020. I chanced upon an “accidental” breeder online (her cocker spaniel and poodle had mated without her knowing) and found myself having first choice of her litter of pups. Tayto (short for “Potayto”) was a phantom colored mix, who I felt could keep me company when I moved back to my apartment once pandemic was over. (I had moved back to my family home where we already had a senior dog, a Weimaraner named Kaiser). Needless to say, having puppy energy around was an amazing pick-me-up in spite of the restrictions, downright depressing energies of maneuvering through the different levels of “Q’s” we had to go through.
The entire household was brightened by Tayto’s playfulness, funny antics, and even his Velcro-like affection. Our bigger dog wasn’t too pleased he had a new, hyper, companion, but I could tell that having a new walking mate was good for Kaiser as well. We often say that we “rescue” some pets, but the truth is, a lot of time they rescue us, showing unconditional love, entertaining us by being completely natural, and even challenging us when we try to train them whether it be for potty purposes, obedience, or skill set.
According to various sources from the web, the following findings are consistent: They can increase opportunities to exercise and get outside, like walking your dog, or if you are a horse owner, riding. These give you more opportunities to also socialize, while the regular exercise can help decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. Being with a pet has also helped decrease feelings of loneliness, anxiety and symptoms of PTSD.
Companionship is key
It really only takes a few moments with a dog, cat, bonding with a bird, watching a fish or a turtle swim, to help feel calmer and less stressed. The level of cortisol (a stress hormone) lowers and serotonin which is a feel-good chemical your body makes, rises. An article in PyschCentral quotes Dr. Larena Davis, a counselor and clinical director for the Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper as saying,“Historically, the therapeutic benefits of animals are documented maybe earlier than most are aware of. Ancient Greeks found that horses appeared to lift the spirits of those very ill. Another significant documented use in history,” she continues, “was in medieval Belgium when humans and animals were rehabilitated together, which showed that companionship has a positive effect.”
There have also been recent studies that long-term dog ownership seems to be associated with fewer age-related declines in cognitive ability. It has been found that being in the company of a pet who is showering you with affection increases the oxytocin “love hormone” on brain function. Forbes Magazine came out with an article that showed a 2018 study that qualitatively and quantitatively analyzed the effects of pet ownership on people living with a mental health condition found that participants who reported losing their sense of purpose following their diagnosis felt significantly more in control of the direction of their lives after they brought a pet home. Some even went as far as saying that their pet gave them a reason to live.
Pets can also be beneficial to kids, in the journal PLOS One ( a fully peer reviewed journal community to advance science for the benefit of society) analyzed data from over 65,000 children from Japan. It found that children exposed to cats or indoor dogs had a 13% to 16% lower risk of all food allergies compared with babies in pet-free homes.
“Our findings suggest that exposure to dogs and cats might be beneficial against the development of certain food allergies, thereby alleviating concerns about pet keeping and reducing the burden of food allergies,” the authors wrote.The study found that children exposed to cats were less likely to develop egg, wheat and soybean allergies, while those exposed to dogs were less likely to have egg, milk and nut allergies.
Fur-Therapy and Support
The term emotional support animal has also made its way into modern-day speak. Pets ranging from sizes big to small are now considered irreplaceable companions for many, who are either living or traveling alone. There are several categories like a service animal who aids the blind, deaf for example and even a seizure response dog and a psychiatric service dog for example who assists those who live with psychiatric disabilities. There are therapy animals as well that are utilized (mostly abroad) to work in places such as hospitals, mental health institutions, hospices and schools to provide comfort, affection and attention to all kinds of people. Animals have also found themselves in the unique position of rehabilitating those who suffer from addiction or ex-convicts or felons. The documentary Wild Horse Redemption and the movie The Mustang are examples of how even the most hardened criminals can be softened and allowed to reconnect with their nurturing, less violent side when having to care for wild horses that cannot communicate with them in human language.
Suffice to say, the list is long with regard to what makes the bond between human and animal so special, oftentimes when you talk to one who really loves and cares for their pet, they themselves cannot come up with an articulate explanation to describe the intangible. Even if this article somehow piques your interest to finally get a pet, it is important to remember that pet ownership is both a serious responsibility and a lifetime (of the pet’s) commitment. They may be cute when they’re young, but they will forever need to be cared for and supported with good nutrition, exercise (if and when needed), veterinary care, love, attention as they dedicate the best of their lives to their owners. It would also be a good idea to adopt a pet (primarily if you decide to get a dog or a cat) from a shelter rather than a breeder (or even worse, a puppy or kitten mill). Once you have made this pet a part of your family, the love they give is unconditional, giving you the best of their lives to yours.
Banner photo by Lifestyle Asia.