Pet Prescription

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Can you even resist that face? I know I can’t.

I’m here to tell you about a new way to support your “mom and dad, can I please have a puppy?” plee. It’s scientifically based, and it’s perfectly applicable for college students.

Interacting with an animal can decrease stress in humans.

Interacting with pets can instantly lower blood cortisol levels.

Interacting with pets can instantly lower blood cortisol levels.

There it is! It’s simple, it’s easy and, most importantly, it’s true. A lot of people already know that dog owners usually enjoy better physical health, but there’s more to the story. Research suggests that dog owners are also generally less stressed out than their pup-less counterparts. The reason is physiological: simply interacting with an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin and decrease production of the stress hormone cortisol.

A few things happen when you play with animals. First, your mood instantly escalates. It’s almost impossible to maintain a bad mood while scratching a kitten soft head or patting a puppy’s plump belly. This benefit of pets is not just perceived; Research supports the mood-enhancing benefits of pets. For instance, one study found that men with AIDS were less likely to suffer from depression if they owned a pet. For all people, a good mood can distract from stress and allow us to return to our work more focused and less frantic.

Pets also promote lower blood pressure in owners. High blood pressure often accompanies high amounts of stress. Pet owners enjoy both lower blood pressure and heart rates, both of which can subtract from feelings of overwhelm. Pets can also lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and elevate beneficial hormones like oxytocin, which is linked to happiness and relaxation. Some people even experienced increases in endorphins and dopamine after spending just five short minutes with an animal.

Digital Image by Sean Locke Digital Planet Design www.digitalplanetdesign.com

In addition, same pets’ restless nature also encourage owners to get out exercise alongside their pets. As I talked about a few weeks ago, exercise is a notable stress reduction technique.

Pets can also provide support in social settings. When you’re out walking with a dog, people are much more likely to approach you and strike conversation than if you are walking alone. These encounters are opportunities for expanding our social networks, which also has great stress management benefits.

Believe it or not, pets are sometimes even better at reducing stress than people are. Pets are undoubtedly the best listeners. They are also nonjudgemental, unconditional lovers. Many people find animal support more comforting than even that of their closest human companions. One study found that, when completing a stressful task, most people experienced a lower degree of stress when their pets were there than when a supportive friend or even their spouse was present.

Pet ownership is not for everyone. For some people, allergies create an impenetrable barrier. For others, being around animals can actually contribute to higher stress. For animal-lovers, and even animal-likers, however, the benefits are undeniable. So before you turn to unnatural forms of stress relief, it’s worth a shot to give the “pet prescription” a try. Pets may be a big investment, but what pet owners lose in time and money, they get back in health and happiness (or should I say PAWsitivity?).

My personal pet prescription, Louie.

My personal pet prescription, Louie.