by Dr Margit Gabriele Muller, leading vet and award-winning author
Stress in our daily lives is increasing, either due to external factors or the pressure we put on ourselves. According to a 2020 survey in UK, work stress was the most common type of stress experienced by 79% of respondents. This is followed by monetary stress (60%), family stress (48%), health stress (45%), and relationship stress (35%).
These figures show that we desperately need help in relieving stress. So, how can cats and dogs help? Let’s look at the top 10 main ways:
#1: Reduce stress
Many physiological ailments are caused by stress, which negatively impact our lives and makes us unhappy. A study found that people working on a stressful task felt significantly less stressed when their pets were with them, as opposed to a spouse, family member, or close friend.
People who were pet owners, especially dog owners, perceived less stress compared with people without pets. Moreover, pets in the workplace reduce the impact of stress during the workday for their pet parents.
#2: More relaxation
Stress can be countered by relaxation and mindfulness. Our pets can greatly contribute to that. Just caressing them for five minutes leads to a significant reduction of the stress hormone cortisol. Therefore, pets are great de-stress boosters and relaxants!
Nothing heals and relaxes us better than talking to our two-or four legged companions without any fear that they will judge us. When we are talking to our pets, we get rid of our problems, worries and pain. Therefore, our cats and dogs can help us to cope better with our daily stress.
#3: Increased happy hormones
Even our hormone levels get positively affected by the deep-rooted bond with our pets. After just five minutes of cuddling our pet, the ‘happy’ hormone dopamine, ‘wellbeing’ hormone endorphin and ‘love’ hormone oxytocin are all excreted more. These increased hormonal levels lead to stress reduction.
#4: Improved sleep
Do you spend sleepless nights worrying about your work or other problems? If the answer is yes -then get a pet! A study showed that 56% of pet owners allow their pets to sleep in the bedroom. Of those, 41% do not feel disturbed by their pets and claim to have even slept better. Sleep seems to improve more when a pet is in the bedroom, but generally not in the bed itself. Interestingly however, science says that a cat in the bed helps us sleep better than your partner does. This applies especially to women as cats love to snuggle with their humans.
#5: Reduced depression
Stress over a long period of time can increase the risk of developing depression if you don’t have proper coping mechanism in place. In 2014, 22.5% women in the UK suffered from depression which is much higher than the worldwide number of 3.4%. Pets in general have been shown to be effective antidotes to depression due to their ability to reduce our stress levels. The same applies to mood swings and negative thinking.
#6: Improved mental health
Mental health is becoming a growing concern, especially now during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the UK,1 in 4 people suffer from mental health problems each year with major prominence among young women. Cats and dogs can support our mental health. They help us to enjoy the moment and to focus on what we are doing right now in the present. In a study, 26% pet owners said that they got a pet because they are aware they are good for mental health. An amazing 87% of cat owners felt the positive impact of their cat on their well-being. 76% stated that their cats helped them to cope much better with everyday life.
#7: Reduced blood pressure
The American Heart Association regards dog ownership as a possible causal role in reducing blood pressure. Owners of adopted dogs showed significantly reduced systolic blood pressure compared with people who did not adopt dogs.
However, you do not have to play with a pet to significantly lower your blood pressure. Even watching fish in a tank versus a bare wall for thirty minutes will do the trick!
#8: Increased exercise
Daily walkies with your dog are a perfect way to get rid of stress. Being in a different environment with your best friend contributes to reducing stress. Interacting with your four-legged companion leads to a decrease of the stress hormone cortisol–for you and your dog. As stress also has a negative impact on your cardiovascular health, daily dog walking is the perfect exercise to lower triglycerides and cholesterol. By improving cardiovascular health, research found that dog owners live longer after a heart attack than non-dog owners.
#9: Reduced pain
If you feel pain and are in desperate need of a painkiller-turn to your pet! Even five minutes with a dog or cat increases our level of endorphins. Endorphins are natural hormones produced by the body that have a similar chemical structure to morphine; they are therefore considered natural painkillers. Their function is to activate opioid receptors in the brain, thus reducing pain.
#10: Improved immune system
Laughter reduces stress, depression, anxiety, and pain and the beneficial impact of laughter on the immune system is well known. Pets often make us spontaneously laugh. Studies found that dog owners laugh more frequently than people without pets and people who own both dogs and cats, laugh even more. This helps to increase our immunity naturally.
The best way to relieve your stress is by having cats and dogs and interacting with your furry companions. The amazing multiple benefits our four-legged friends can enable us to live happier, healthier, less stressful and more joyful lives. Article by Dr Margit Gabriele Muller, leading vet and award-winning author of Your Pet, Your Pill: 101 Inspirational Stories About How Pets Lead You to A Happy, Healthy and Successful Life, out now, available on Amazon.