Researchers tell us that owning a dog or cat has health benefits. The first study on pets and mental health was published 30 years ago. Psychologist Alan Beck of Purdue University and psychiatrist Aaron Katcher of the University of Pennsylvania measured what happens to the body when a person pets a friendly dog. Here's what they found:
Blood pressure went down
Heart rate slowed
Breathing became more regular
Muscle tension relaxed.
Further studies around pets and mental health show that petting and playing with animals reduces stress-related hormones. And these benefits can occur after just five minutes of interacting with a pet. When we play, smile, and laugh at our pets' cute behavior, it stimulates the release of serotonin and dopamine, the "happiness hormones." These hormones calm and relax the nervous system. Although a furry pet may not be a good fit for your family, all kinds of pets bring us joy and unconditional love. One study (PsychologyToday.com), was conducted in a nursing home, used crickets to be cared for by residents. Besides being easier to feed and house, the crickets provided companionship and eased loneliness. How have your pets helped your mental well-being?