Stroking your dog or cat can make you feel calmer. It can help lower your blood pressure. Even observing fish in an aquarium can help you be in the moment and release muscle tension. Psychologists, behavioral scientists, cardiologists, pet groomers, and animal scientists have all attempted to answer the question – can pets make you happy?
The answer is a BIG yes. Let’s find out more.
Can pets make you happy?
Animal lovers have always known in their hearts that pets make them happy. Ask anyone who has a dog or cat how incredibly comforting it is to come home and find their pet greet them with love and warmth.
Now, there’s enough scientific evidence to establish that pets do indeed make us happy. There’s a physiological basis to it; later in this post, we will shed light on the scientific reasons why pets make you happy.
For many people, spending time with a pet animal, whether it’s a dog, cat, rabbit, horse, or guinea pig, is the perfect way to unwind after a stressful day.
How big a contribution pets can make in your happiness quotient will depend on how strong the pet-owner bond really is.
There are occasions in life when you are down and beaten. On such occasions, it’s comforting to find a pet waiting to shower unconditional love on you.
Lack of discipline in daily life can easily lead to stress. With a pet, you will always have a reason to wake up, sleep, or eat at a certain time. It’s amazing how pets can get you moving at a fixed time every day for a particular activity, like a natural alarm clock.
Pets also keep you active, thereby promoting physical and mental health. A 15-minute early morning walk in the park with your pet will not only help you burn some calories, but also lead to the release of ‘happy hormones’ such as serotonin and endorphins.
American Heart Association encourages spending time with pets to reduce stress
The American Heart Association (AHA) has for long been a proponent of pet companionship. In 2013, the organization issued a scientific statement that concluded that “pet ownership, particularly dog ownership” may be associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD).
In June 2020, the organization celebrated the Best Friend Fridays. Organizers encouraged people to spend time with their pets at work each Friday in June.
Millions of Americans are prone to develop stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizers said that pets can help alleviate stress and also increase their owners’ physical activity.
According to, Megan Ramsey, an official with the AHA, taking your dog out for a walk or just petting your dog can help lower the blood pressure.
“Taking a break (referring to time spent with a pet) is good for your mental health,” he said.
The health benefits of pet love
Your pet making you feel less stressed after a tiring day at work isn’t just a matter of perception. There’s brain chemistry at play.
Researchers have now established that spending time interacting with a pet not only slows the heart rate and lowers blood pressure, but also has a positive influence on cortisol and dopamine – two hormones responsible for regulating the body’s stress levels.
While dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that makes you feel happy, motivated, or attentive by acting through the brain’s reward circuit; cortisol is closely associated with stress-modulation and plays a crucial role in managing the body’s metabolism and blood sugar levels.
Sine since pets offer you their unconditional love, human-pet interactions also result in the production of oxytocin – a hormone – in the base of the brain.
This hormone is sometimes referred to as the ‘cuddle hormone’ or ‘love hormone.’ When this hormone is released, a person can bond (socially) more easily with others.
In fact, a recent study has revealed that owning a pet dog or cat can actually make you more attractive to your love interest.
A pet animal may not be a substitute for humans, but their loyalty and unconditional love can sure help a person escape the feelings of loneliness. Pet companionship gives a sense of purpose and belongingness, both of which go a long way in fighting off depression.
A report published by Harvard Medical School says that dog owners have lower blood pressure than those who don’t. The calming effect that pets have on their owners as well as the power of touch and increased physical activity are believed to be the underlying reasons. Having a pet dog can also lead to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, says the report.
Having a pet at home will not only encourage routine and responsible behavior among young kids but also promote mental health.
A recent study involving 1,640 households has revealed that children (aged 2 to 5) who had a dog at home showed better social and emotional well-being than those who did not.
10 reasons why having a pet makes you happy
1. Having a pet makes you more responsible: Caring for another creature on a daily basis inculcates a sense of responsibility. Your pet depends on you for food, cleanliness, and health. As you bond with your pet, you will accept responsibility with love instead of looking at it as a daily chore. Before you know it, caring for a cat will also encourage responsible behavior at school/work or in the family. Taking on responsibility and fulfilling it is highly satisfying.
2. Pets can be amazing ice-breakers: If you have difficulty striking up a conversation with a stranger or don’t know how to bond with the community, your pet can make the whole exercise much easier for you. Your neighbors, for instance, are more likely to initiate a conversation when you are out for an evening stroll with your pet.
3. Pets make you more active: Pets can significantly increase your leisure-time activity. Whether you just toss a tennis ball in the park with your dog or run around the house with your cat, you will always end up getting more exercise on a daily basis.
4. Better communication skills: You will have to communicate with your pet by using touch or gestures. With time, you can also tutor your pet on how to respond to voice commands. Either way, it makes you a better listener and a more patient communicator. People with good listening and non-verbal communication skills are able to foster healthier and more joyful relationships.
5. Increase self-love and self-esteem: Research shows that pet owners exhibit stronger self-esteem than those who don’t own a pet. People who suffer from mild depression or are susceptible to developing stress are calmer and happier when they spend time with pets.
6. Pets can boost your mood: As discussed above, spending time with your pet leads to the release of dopamine that activates the brain’s reward circuit. This is why spending time with a pet animal makes you calm and happy.
7. Pets help develop empathy: Kids who spend time with pets at a young age grow into more empathetic adults. Kids with this wonderful trait are more likely to have fulfilling relationships.
8. Pets can make you laugh more: There are countless things pet animals do on a daily basis that make us laugh. You smile and laugh more often when you are happy. Conversely, laughter can improve your mood, boost your immune system, and relieve physical tension. It’s great medicine, really, and a pet animal can provide you with a daily dose.
9. Pets you can make you feel less lonely: Whether you are grieving, have broken up with your partner, or just live alone in a big city or a remote hamlet, a pet animal can offer companionship when you need it the most.
10. Pets can make you emotionally & mentally stable: Pets can test your patience, especially when they are young. As you learn to accept their flaws and patiently tutor them on how to behave, how to play, and how to respect boundaries, you, too, learn how to develop emotional and mental flexibility.
How pets can help fight pandemic/lockdown stress
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has put us all in an unprecedented situation. The social isolation, fear of uncertainty, financial turmoil, etc. have made the matters worse for billions of people worldwide.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, pets can provide much-needed companionship – along with a bunch of physical and mental health benefits discussed above.
Since we are now cut off from friends and family, pets can help ease loneliness. Having a cat or dog with you, for instance, can make you feel far less isolated and thus keep you from developing stress and anxiety.
Much of the stress stems from a feeling of staring at an uncertain future. Whether you browse social media, watch the TV or read a newspaper, you end up focusing on all sorts of negative events taking place during the pandemic.
A pet animal can easily knock you out of the emotional hangover or help you get off the train of negative thoughts; the moment you start caring for or playing with your pet, you’re likely to shift your focus on the present moment.
For many people, it can be difficult to maintain a routine or have a sense of purpose while they are staying indoors, working from home, or waiting for the pandemic to get over.
A pet can give you purpose as well as help you maintain a daily schedule; this way, you are far less likely to feel depressed.
| Also Read: How to deal with stress during COVID-19 pandemic
How to build a strong bond with your pet
First things first, set aside enough time to hang out.
Most pets love to follow a routine. So, you can set aside a time of the day when you give your undivided attention to your furry friend.
What you do during this timeframe is up to you, but if you pay attention, you will build a bond with your pet in no time.
‘Petting’ is part of owning a pet. This is why pets are called ‘pets.’ Your pet animal slowly becomes familiar and affectionate towards your touch and starts trusting you.
Animal-human bonding continues to get stronger as the mutual-trust grows and feelings reciprocate.
Just as animals groom their babies, you too, need to make time for grooming your pet. Yes, licking your pet is not an option but you can always brush their hair or give them a cozy shower.
One of the best ways to get more familiar with pet animals’ personalities is to play with them. This is one of the best ways to build a strong bond with your pet.
You will gather more cues on what makes them happy or excited, which activities they find most joyful, and how they can communicate.
As it is with humans, getting to know each other is an essential part of building a strong bond with a pet animal.
Most pets will need regular exercise or physical activity.
You can ensure daily physical activity by playing some games in your drawing room or backyard, or go out for a morning/evening walk; it will not only help keep your pet healthy but also enable you both to develop knowledge & understanding of one another.
Pets love treats. Since your pet is dependent on you for food, consider it a great opportunity to build a bond with your pet.
Lastly, you need to work on setting boundaries just as you’d do for any other family member. It can be difficult at first, but it’s essential for a healthy pet-owner relationship.
For instance, if you don’t want your dog to climb on the kitchen counter and go near the gas stove, you’d have to spend some time teaching him that.
If you don’t do that early on, you will end up getting offended each time he doesn’t respond to your command. Now, that’s not a recipe for a healthy pet-owner relationship, is it?
It takes some time to bond with a pet animal, but most pets respond quickly. When you share a deep bond with your pet, you will have a reciprocal healing relationship that you will cherish for a lifetime.