Why do dogs (and cats) make your family healthier and happier?

We love cats and dogs. The happy tail wagging by your puppy, the insistent nuzzling of your cat – these are all actions that fill the entire family with warm joy and a sense of peace. No, it wasn’t just in your head. There is plenty of research to back up those warm fuzzy feelings.

For instance, a 2016 study by BarkBox found that 71% of dog owners are happier because of their dogs. And according to a Harris poll in 2015, 95% of dog or cat owners consider their pets a family member. It’s a mutual relationship too. On average, pet owners experience lower blood pressure and have a 24% reduced risk of heart disease, among many other benefits.

But why and how does this happen?

1. Your family becomes more active.

Whether you are playing fetch with your dog or the kids playing a game of tag with the kitty, your family is moving around and being active – which means you burn more calories, work your heart, and boost your energy levels. You are exercising while hardly realizing it!

These activities may not sound like much, but over time, it adds up. The author behind 100 Simple Secrets Why Dogs Make Us Happy, David Niven, says that dog owners walk 79% more than the average person. Those are pretty good numbers. Swapping dog-walking duties with the rest of the family is a great way to ensure everyone is active. Additionally, the human body releases endorphins whenever you undergo physical activity or exercise – these are the chemicals that make us happy. In short, little dog walks in the evening will leave everyone in the family fit and more content. It’s a win-win all around!

There’s plenty of research to support this. 80% of those surveyed in a Dog Parent Study said that having dogs made them much more active. The American Heart Association indicated that owning pets reduces heart risk factors like lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and decreased obesity. Another study found that cat owners had a 40% less chance of experiencing a heart attack or stroke.

2. Helps develop empathy

Dogs and cats are invaluable at teaching little children empathy, and kids with pets are known to grow up to be more nurturing adults. Experts theorize that this could result from learning – at a young age – that all living animals and people require comfort and experience pain. However, this effect is not restricted to only children. Increased empathy has also been noticed in people who bring in their first furry pet as an adult. Taking responsibility for a pet reminds every person that living creatures may have needs that far eclipse their needs. It forces owners to view life from a different perspective, resulting in increased compassion.

dogs (and cats) make your family healthier and happier

As a parent, you can guide your children to be more empathetic by encouraging them to caregiver the family pet. Encourage your children to take on responsibilities like filling up the food and water bowls and brushing the pet. Children soon understand that they must treat the pet kindly if they are to be loved and trusted. This teaches them that their actions affect people and feelings.

3. Helps us communicate better

You may have probably noticed that you see increased small talk when you are out with your pet. You see more smiles, more hellos, and increased conversations. These are brief interactions, but they make us feel more social, feel less isolated, and feel more in touch with our local community. And when we are connected to people, we feel better. If you are trying to improve your or your child’s social connections, your furry pet can be the perfect icebreaker and conversation starter. It’s hardly a coincidence that pet parent dating sites, pet owner gatherings, and more are growing in popularity today.

4. Petting soothes us

Of course, our cats and dogs absolutely adore being petted and scratched, but it’s a two-way street. It takes just a few minutes of petting for your brain to increase the production of oxytocin and serotonin – the two chemicals that leave us feeling calm and relaxed. Just the simple act of running your palms through your pet’s fur is known to drastically reduce cortisol levels, aka the stress hormone. So remember, the next time you pet or nuzzle your beloved pet, you are doing yourself a favor too.

5. Pet owners are more responsible.

Taking up a pet is more than just snuggles and walks in the park. Owners are now responsible for the life of another living creature. From ensuring its dietary needs are met to cleaning it and ensuring it is healthy, a lot of responsibility comes with a pet. Taking on this responsibility and ensuring its happiness will see better results in other aspects of your life, whether responsible at work or meeting family commitments. Additionally, sharing this responsibility with the rest of the family will teach everyone a lesson on responsibility. If you want your children to grow up reliable and responsible, a family pet may just be the way to do it.

Another little-discussed factor is that making a positive change in the life of your pet is therapeutic. Caring for your pet and seeing its content gives you hope and makes you feel better, especially if you have been down in the dumps lately. This builds up your emotional strength and leaves you more assertive and emotionally better.

6. Helps children express emotions

school counselor noted that many of them named their pets when children were asked who they turned to with problems. It’s hardly a surprise. Many children find it challenging to talk with adults about strong emotions. What helps young children process these emotions is repeating the story repeatedly till they feel they have a measure of control over the entire situation. A loving pet in such a situation can go a long way in helping your child learn to better process and express emotions.

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