There is perhaps nothing quite as warm as the love and affection from a family pet, but is it possible that pets do more than bring joy to their owners’ lives? According to recent studies, animals add a lot more value to human lives than one might think.
Elisabeth Van Every serves as marketing and strategic partnerships coordinator for the non-profit organization Pet Partners, which works with therapy animals to improve human health and well-being through the animal-human bond.
“While many of us intuitively understand the benefits of positive interactions with animals in our lives, an emerging body of research is recognizing the impact the human-animal bond can have on individual and community health,” Van Every says. “Research has shown that interaction with animals can lower blood pressure, lessen pain and other measures of distress, reduce stress and offer a variety of more intangible benefits, such improving a person’s mood and making them feel comforted.”
Other benefits of pet ownership and therapy include increased survival rates for those recovering from heart attacks, improved motivation and positive outlooks among pediatric cancer patients, increased positive social behaviors among children with autism spectrum disorder and a host of other benefits.
While pets can provide therapeutic support in medical settings, they can also be a relief to those experiencing a variety of emotions following a traumatic event.
“For some people, a comforting interaction with an animal might mean petting and hugging the animal,” Van Every says. “For some it might mean watching the animal or talking to it. For others, exercise with an animal. Animals offer a non-judgmental presence and affectionate responses to human interaction, and these can be extremely helpful to people who are dealing with all kinds of stress and emotional discomfort.”
Lifestyle Expert JoJo Pastors works with clients to help improve their overall wellness and quality of life. She believes pet ownership plays a big role in personal health.
“Petting a dog or cat has a profound therapeutic effect on both human and furry companion,” Pastors says. Whether you’re just feeling down or facing a serious crisis like financial troubles or grieving the loss of a loved one, a pet provides comfort and unconditional love.”
She also says that studies show that pet owners often exercise more, which leads to improved cardiovascular health.
While dogs and cats are the most common household pets, there are a number of animals that have been used in pet therapy and can be comforting in a domestic setting. Rabbits, miniature horses, guinea pigs, rats, birds, miniature pigs, llamas and alpacas are commonly used by pet handlers at Pet Partners.
“For some species, the sheer novelty provides an emotional boost in and of itself — not many people expect to see a llama walking into their hospital room or a parrot reading a book with a child,” Van Every says. “The delight of these experiences contributes to the therapeutic effect of the visit with the animal.”