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How Your Dog Can Be Your Doctor

There are many reasons why people choose to get a pet- and to add to that list is something you might not expect- furry (or hairless!) friends can actually make us healthier. Research shows that having a pet can boost your mental and physical health- here’s how:

  1. They calm you down. Petting an animal actually physically reduces stress responses in people. According to the National Institute of Health, the stress hormone cortisol is reduced and heart rate goes down after only spending a few minutes with a pet. This includes non-interactive pets like fish. Next time you are anxious or upset, take a break to go sit with your pet for a little while for an easy way to take your mind off of stressors and calm down.
  2. They make you happy. According to WebMD, playing with a pet causes an increase in serotonin and dopamine in your brain. These chemicals are naturally produced in your brain and are responsible for feelings of happiness, calm, and pleasure. Antidepressants aim to help increase these chemicals, so in a way pets are a natural antidepressant! When you are feeling down, turn to your pet for a pick-me-up.
  3. Pets quell feelings of loneliness. A pet is always there when you need them, and though they cannot talk, just their presence can be comforting. When you have a pet, you don’t ever have to go home to an empty house. In addition, dogs especially can facilitate social interactions between people. Taking your dog to the park or even just on a walk around the neighborhood opens you up to situations in which people can come up to pet the dog or ask about it. Pet owners can bond with other pet owners using their furry friends as conversation starters.
  4. They teach responsibility. Every kid begs his or her parents for a puppy- and maybe it’s not such a bad idea. If your child is old enough, getting a pet that they are charged with taking care of can help them learn responsibility. Having to make sure Fido has food and water every day, gets exercise, and lives in a clean environment teaches kids valuable lessons. This can even have a similar effect on a depressed person- as parent know, when one must take care of a helpless being, there is more reason to get out of bed in the morning and put on a happy face.
  5. Pets can get you active. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), people who own pets have lower blood pressure and cholesterol than non-pet owners. Most pets need some form of exercise or entertainment, therefore forcing their owners to get moving too. Playing with string with your cat, following your guinea pig around the house, or taking your dog outside are great ways to get exercise and have fun. If you have a large, energetic dog taking it running with you could even motivate you to run faster!

As you can see, pets bring some major benefits- however they can take a lot of work. Dogs in particular can be high-maintenance, and require training and lots of attention. Pets need to be taken for the vet, have pet-sitters when you go out of town, and cost money. They may even destroy things around the house, and some people may be allergic to them. However, if you have been feeling lonely, down, or anxious lately, bringing a pet into your life can be a great step to feeling better. Know though, that a pet cannot take the place of a therapist, and if you are really struggling, Symmetry Counseling is here to help.

Author: Grace Norberg, AMFT

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