Ask almost any pet parent and they’ll tell you that happiness is a wet nose and vibrato purrs. But that’s not just “crazy cat lady” or “doting dog dad” speak: There is actual science to back it up!
The benefits of having a pet date all the way to at least 15,000 years ago, when the concept of affectionately caring for a domesticated animal first got its start. I know it’s sometimes tough to imagine early man with a wittle fur baby, but they had them, I swear! Of course, owning a vigilant canine or sly cat served a utilitarian need; dogs helped protect homes, herd other animals and hunt prey, while cats kept homes free of pests and rodents.
Over time, animals were bred to be more compatible with the human lifestyle, and true bonds between animal and human formed. Today, our domesticated pets still help us out in some of the ways mentioned above, but they also serve another vital role: They make us incredibly happy, and here’s the data to prove it.
Pets Can Actually Make You Stress Less
As if you really needed a reason to stay in bed and cuddle with dog or cat, there are some serious mood-boosting benefits of having a pet.
“Pets certainly make people happier. They help people relieve stress, have more of a purpose in life, and keep themselves in a routine,” says Natalie Buchwald, LMHC, founder and clinical director of Manhattan Mental Health Counseling in New York. “In a 2019 Washington State University study, researchers discovered that 10 minutes of cuddling or stroking a pet led to a significant decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone.”
So, all those times you stopped to pet a pooch on the street? You were just taking care of your mental health!
Psychologist Nadia Ameri, founder of The Flower Apothecary in Agoura Hills, California, also reiterates how profound the 2019 study was, pointing out the significance of possibly treating depression or anxiety without medication. She also highlighted another study conducted by The Human-Animal Bond Research Institute, which had similar findings. “The survey found that 74 percent of pet owners stated they felt their pets helped improve their mental health,” says Ameri.
But how do these stats factor into times of extra stress? (Like, say, right now…) Interestingly, Banfield Pet Hospital released a May 2020 study on how recent weeks of increased time at home with pets impacted owners. One of the key findings was that 45 percent of those surveyed said their household’s happiness had increased while spending more time with their pet during their region’s stay-at-home orders, with 39 percent revealing their pet helped lower their anxiety and uncertainty caused by the global pandemic.
Now, Let’s Get Physical
We know that a reduction in stress can make us feel better mentally, but it also has an incredible impact on our physical well-being. High levels of cortisol (that stress hormone we’ve talked about) have been linked to heart disease, weight gain, sleep issues and even memory impairment. Keeping these levels in check can potentially help prevent such health hazards.
Furthermore, having a special fur baby in your life can result in an uptick of physical activity. As Buchwald previously mentioned, pets can create more consistency in our daily routines, spurring us to get up earlier, get outside and MOVE.
“Pets often need to be brought outside or walked, which has a positive impact on [their parent’s] well-being, if only for the additional steps and sun-derived vitamin D received from being outside,” she says.
We don’t know about you, but we’ll give our floofs some extra belly rubs as thanks for the fitness boost!
Proud dog mom Joanne Brickles can attest to the ways in which her pup, Milky, has positively impacted her life since adopting her in June 2014. “As cliché as it sounds, she’s my best friend. Not only does she know when I’m happy and sad, she knows when I need a boop!” says Brickles.
“She’s helped me with so many things, like becoming a responsible adult, as well as health issues like anxiety, depression and weight,” she continues. “And it’s not just me that noticed the change she brought me. I’ve had friends comment on how much happier I seem since Milky came into my life.”
Mary Brockmeier, who’s a pet parent eight times over with six cats and two dogs, echoes Brickels’ experience. “Cats have always been a part of my life, and when I hit low points my cat, Nala, always is by my side,” Brockmeier explains. "She was a foster fail who was sent back by two homes only to want to be with me. She chose me, and every day she makes me feel unconditionally loved."
“She knows when I feel sick, when I feel down, when I feel alone,” Brockmeier adds. "Whether she’s being silly and taking rubber bands out of my hair to play with them, laying on my lap and purring, singing for kitty treats or just sitting in my vicinity, she brings a smile to my face."
Looking for Puppy Love? Read This First
If the above has inspired you to consider adopting a pet, that’s so exciting! That being said, adopting a pet is not a decision to take lightly—it requires some mental and physical preparation on your end, and it often comes with at least a decade-long commitment.
“It’s important to be prepared with the time and resources to make your new pet feel comfortable,” says Buchwald, who recommends potential adopters ask themselves the following questions before taking the pet plunge:
- How much room do I have in my house and outdoor area?
- How often will I be home to take care of my new pet?
- Do I have the budget to provide healthcare and training classes for my new pet?
Basically, a pet can bring you joy and fulfillment, but it’s also necessary to consider your future pet’s needs, as well.
But once you’re sure that you’ll be able to meet those needs, you just might find yourself on a journey to a more fulfilled and happy life—with plenty of cuddles and ear scratches along the way!