Around here, we’re all about taking care of our pets (check out our new Salmon Dog Chews), but there are so many ways our little creatures take care of us, too. In fact, lots of fancy people in lab coats have spent time proving this through various studies and research. Yup—it’s true, cats, dogs, and other furry and not-so-furry friends can have a big positive impact on our health. A few of the benefits? They can boost your mood, decrease your blood pressure, and even give your immune system some help. Grab your little pal and read on to feel a little extra grateful for your animal BFF.
Help your microbiome
We know that when it comes to our microbiomes (the collection of all the microbes in and on our bodies), diversity is generally our friend—and dogs could help keep ours varied. Research into household dust has shown that homes that have cats have an increase in 24 categories of bacterial species, while dogs triggered an increase in 56. This has led some experts to theorize that dog saliva could even act as a probiotic, though that has yet to be proven. But don’t worry—scientists at the University of Arizona are on the case.
Lower your anxiety levels
Pets are well-documented zen masters, helping decrease their owners’ stress levels. And even if you don’t own a pet, you might be able to benefit by making a play date with a friend’s, as just interacting with a dog was shown in a 2019 study to have a positive effect on university students’ mood and lowered their anxiety. And what’s more, just looking at a video of a dog also showed benefits, though not to the level of the actual human-canine interaction. Finally, a valid excuse to search for puppy videos on YouTube.
Increase your life expectancy
Your animal pal may actually add years to your life. A 12-year Swedish study involving 3.4 million people found that those who had dogs had a lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease than those who led a canine-free existence. A lot of this seems to be related to their stress-busting effects on heart health, since it lowered participants' chances of death by cardiovascular disease by 36 percent and chances of heart attack by 11 percent. All the more reason to hug your furry friend a little closer today.
Reduce feelings of loneliness
Sure, you joke about your pet being your best friend, but, well, there may be some truth to that. Research shows that owning a cat or dog can decrease feelings of loneliness. Take, for example, the results of a poll by the Human Animal Bond Resaerch Instititute: 85 percent of respondents agree that interaction with pets can help reduce loneliness, 76 percent agree human-pet interactions help with feelings of social isolation, and 80 percent of owners say their pet offers companionship. Perhaps that’s why so many folks rushed to adopt cats and dogs during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Make pain go poof
Talk about therapy animals—pets, especially dogs, have been found to help alleviate pain. In one study by Loyola University, total joint replacement patients who had 5- to 15-minute sessions with therapy dogs required 28 percent less pain medication than those who had no doggie face-time. Paging Dr. Spot!
Alleviate asthma in babies
You might associate pets making people wheeze—and, yes, that’s a real factor for many with allergies—but what you might not realize is being exposed to a pet in childhood can actually help those kids breathe easier, so to speak. One study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that households that include both newborns and cats show a lower risk of that kid having asthma, pneumonia, and bronchiolitis. The thinking here is that early exposure can help head off an overactive immune system that can misidentify potential threats.