If you have a beloved pet, or more than one, in your household, I can tell you with confidence that you and your family are healthier for it. Let me share with you some of the discoveries about The Healing Power of Pets from Dr. Karen Allen at the University of New York, Buffalo, who has done some excellent work in this area herself. More in a bit on Dr. Allen’s work.
I have seen firsthand the profound effects animals can have on our health. When pets are around us, our body chemistry actually changes. The levels of the stress hormone cortisol go down, immune function improves, and serotonin and oxytocin levels increase. These are the same hormones that are elevated in a woman after giving birth that promote bonding with her new baby.
Dr. Allen’s studies on the effects of pets on their owner’s blood pressure are impressive. In a study where people were asked to do a task like a math problem in the presence of a best (human) friend, a spouse, or a pet, it came as no surprise to me that blood pressure rose significantly with a human companion present, but either rose a very tiny bit or not at all when their pet was the only observer.
The presence of a nonjudgmental living being like a pet soothes us and lets us feel in a gentle way the powerful self-acceptance that I believe is essential to living a happy, healthy life. As I have said before, and will again, animals have an incredible ability to be completely there and completely devoted. How many of us can say that we are totally devoted to someone else’s well-being? Animals are, and we respond to that unconditional love because it feeds our souls.
Twelve months after a heart attack the mortality rate in homes with a dog was 5%, and in homes with no dog, 26%. So get a pet and when in doubt ask yourself WWLD? Or What Would Lassie Do?