You probably don’t remember when you first learned that pet ownership was a thing, but let’s attempt to recapture the magic of that moment. In front of you is a small creature (or maybe a large one) with scales or feathers or fur that does absolutely nothing but just kinda… be there. And you’re told that if you feed it, maybe play with it, and buy it its own furniture, it will be your friend.
What an absolutely wild concept.
Over 65% of the American population has taken on the responsibility of caring for a four-legged (or two-legged, or no-legged) friend. And now that we’re old enough to know a bit more about what it takes to own a pet, we find that there are far more benefits to this cohabitation than simply “learning responsibility”. Today, we’re going to be talking about those benefits, especially those that correspond to your physical and mental health, and how to avoid choosing a pet that isn’t right for you. Get ready, pet lovers everywhere– this article is for you!
Inside the Mind of a Pet-Owner
Believe it or not, owning a pet has a tangible impact on both your mental state and your physical brain. But good news– that impact is overwhelmingly positive!
Pet-owners consistently report being happier, healthier, and more well-adjusted than individuals who do not own any pets. This is likely because the perception of companionship is known to prompt the release of oxytocin in the brain. Oxytocin is a chemical that is commonly referred to as the “bonding” hormone, and it is known to elicit feelings of joy, contentment, empathy, and security. Having frequent, comfortable social interaction motivates our brains to release it more actively, and that kind of socializing is not restricted to humans! Bonding with an animal in a similar way is known to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as foster a more positive outlook on life.
When observing the effects of animal interaction on loneliness, depression, self-esteem, and mental disorders, most studies have found non-human engagement to be incredibly helpful with easing negative symptoms. Individuals experiencing pain on either an internal or external level both reported feelings of comfort, happiness, and emotional stability after interacting with animals. Emotional support animals are becoming increasingly common thanks to the steady growth of acute research in this field.
How the Body Benefits from Animal Companionship
Your brain isn’t the only part of your body that benefits from having a furry (or not so furry) friend. Having a pet that suits your wants and needs can help your physical health by:
- providing stress relief. Just like seeing a good friend, pet interaction lowers cortisol production in the brain. Furry or fuzzy animals in particular are known to get those happy-feelings flowing because of our body’s natural calming reaction to touching soft objects!
- combatting high blood pressure. One of the benefits of having a pet as a living stress-reliever is that your heart will start to relax after brief contact with them. So, a happy pet will lead to a happy heart!
- lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Pets that require physical exercise tend to encourage their owners to get active as well, leading to lower BMIs and a steadier flow of feel-good hormones!
- promoting social interaction. Pet owners often feel a kinship with those who’ve welcomed similar animals into their homes. Online forums and outdoor parks dedicated to animal interaction are great catalysts for fun human-to-human interaction, which puts the heart and mind in a happy, healthy mood!
The Right Kind of Companionship
Depending on the type of animal companion you would like to welcome to your home, you may find that the demands of caring for another creature can be… taxing, to say the least.
Just like how certain friendships can do more harm than good, adopting a pet with needs that don’t match your own desires and lifestyle can backfire big-time. The stress that accompanies pet-ownership will grow exponentially if you don’t find a good match for your home: insomnia, weight fluctuations, mental fatigue, and other uncomfortable ailments often follow ill-fitting pet situations, and your new friend will probably feel just as uncomfortable as you do. So, before you bring them into your home, it’s important to assess what you need and what you can afford to give– for both your health and theirs.
That being said, are you wondering which kind of pets will best suit your lifestyle and help you maximize the heartwarming benefits of pet ownership? Well, the good news is that there are plenty of species to choose from– birds, rodents, dogs, cats, snakes, spiders, lizards, fish, rabbits, horses– and each has their own set of needs.
Here’s a brief list of factors you should be looking into as you consider acquiring a new pet:
- Allergies— Are you allergic to the pet you’re researching? (If you are, don’t get it. Seriously. Consistent exposure to allergens isn’t good for anyone.)
- Age— How old are you and the members of your household? Will young children be in danger of drowning, getting burned, or being attacked around your pet?
- Lifespan— How long are you willing to care for a pet? What kinds of health complications come with their breeds as they age?
- Finances— Can you afford to feed and house this kind of pet? Are you able to provide it with toys, comfy furniture, and appropriately-sized meals?
- Attention/Availability— How often are you home? How much attention does this kind of pet need, and does your current lifestyle allow you the time to properly engage with them?
- Space— Do you have an adequate amount of room in your home to meet this pet’s needs? Can they move around comfortably and find privacy when they need to?
- Physical Contact— Do you want to be able to hold and touch your pet? And perhaps more importantly, will they want you to touch and hold them?
- Medical Care— Do you have financial/physical access to a pet clinic to inspect and treat your pet for any possible ailments they may develop?
Be sure to research the need variances in each species, as well as the differences among their breeds. Seek credible help when matching your living situation to theirs, and you should be good to go!
The Most Important Thing
When you decide to add a set of paws, wings, fins, or claws to your family tree, you are accepting responsibility for another life. Their wellbeing becomes your mission, and it’s important to acknowledge when a living situation is not beneficial for you or for them. And for your sake, and theirs, please be careful when considering the kind of companion you’d like to bring home.
Caring for a pet is perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences you can have in your life. Both your body and your mind benefit from the unconditional love that comes from investing in an animal friend. So, if you’re ready to take home that dog, cat, snake, bird, fish, or guinea pig that you’ve had your heart set on, take that last step and begin your journey towards companionship!