Despite the look on my mother’s face when I brought a 4-month old puppy home from college, I knew I made the right decision. As someone who grew up with dogs, cats, fish, and a bird, I know first-hand the difference owning a pet can have on someone’s life. Research also shows that the benefits reach far beyond the general feeling of joy we experience when our furry friend greets us at the door. Between physical and mental health benefits, it’s clear that non-pet owners are missing out on more than just a loving companion.
Today marks the “unofficial” national holiday, Love Your Pet Day, so let’s chat and chew about how owning a pet can improve your life.
They get you moving. Raising a puppy was no easy task—I became very familiar with the I-have-ten-seconds-before-I-pee-on-the-floor-look. It did, however, force me to take mental breaks throughout the day. Owning a pet gets you outside, gives you an energy boost, and allows you to blow off steam. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or had a bad day, it’s proven that once you see your pet’s face you automatically cheer up! Plus, mainly for fellow dog owners, you can always count on your pet to take a long walk with you or play at the park. But hey, if you just want to curl up on the couch, your pet will be right by your side too.
They help you be more social. Pets are a great conversation starter. Let’s face it—we love showing off the hundreds of photos we have saved on our phones. Not only is walking your pet great for relationships, they can help foster interpersonal skills as well, says Alan Entin, a psychologist and past president of the American Psychological Association’s Division of Family Psychology. “Being outside with a dog helps you meet people,” Entin says. Ultimately, “…that helps improve your social life.”
They make you laugh. Pets have quirky things they randomly do that no one can understand—we can’t help but burst into laughter. Froma Walsh, co-director of the Chicago Center for Family Health and a Professor Emerita at the University of Chicago, says, “They bring laughter and humor into our stressful lives and encourage us in playful ways.” Pets are a good reminder that we need to enjoy our lives and not take things so seriously all the time.
They reduce allergies and asthma, and build immunity. Surprisingly, research shows that children who grew up in homes with 2 or more dogs or cats were less than half as likely to develop common allergies to things such as, dust, grass, ragweed, and pet allergies.
They help you love yourself. Owning a pet helps instill a sense of purpose and can boost your self-esteem. They also help people who suffer from depression or tend to feel lonely. In general, pets offer unconditional love, never judge, and are always willing to listen. There’s something so special about the way pets can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel—and rarely does it take much effort.
They help reduce stress. While pet-ownership in and of itself can reduce emotional stress, when you pet or play with your animal, touch and movement provides sensory stress relief as well.
While the list goes on, these reasons alone can be enough to sway anyone into getting a pet; however, pet-ownership is not for everyone. Getting a pet in college came with its challenges—puppies are VERY time consuming, not to mention, expensive. If you have the means to raise your pet right, then go for it! If not, don’t set yourself and the animal up for failure. The benefits of owning a pet are not going to disappear anytime soon.
Consider volunteering at a local shelter until you’re ready to bring your best friend home – you might just stumble upon your perfect companion who’s up for adoption!