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Pets provide mental and physical health benefits

2024.02.21 19:56:51 Yeonwoo(Anthony) Kim

[Gamja and Chip, golden retrievers, hugging for a photo. Photo Credit to Anthony Kim]

In a monthly poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in March 2023, consisting of 2,200 participants, results have shown that, in addition to being considered valued members of the family, pets provide a multitude of mental and physical health benefits.


For example, the APA poll showed that dog owners experienced increases in the chemical levels of dopamine and oxytocin in the brain.


Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” hormone which provides a feeling of reward, while oxytocin is known as the “love” hormone, giving feelings of love and affection.


The presence of a pet can also remind owners that they are not alone and can stave off or reduce depression.


“I had just moved to the United States, did not have many friends here, and had a miscarriage,” says Michelle Lao, a resident of San Jose, California.


“If it wasn’t for my golden retriever, Nugget, I don’t know if I could have come out of that depression.” Lao stated that her dog appeared to know that she was sad and would constantly go to her and offer her comfort; even just petting Nugget made her feel more relaxed and less lonely.


This is not surprising, as the APA study illustrated that being around dogs decreases the level of cortisol, the primary stress hormone that leads to depression and anxiety.


This is not to say that cats are without benefits to their owners, as the APA study revealed that cat owners were more likely to attest that their pets provided them with companionship than dog owners were, offering them a calming effect that reduced stress and anxiety.


Overall, the APA poll showed that an overwhelming majority of pet owners stated that their pets had a positive impact on their mental health due to the reduction in stress and anxiety, the unconditional love they felt, and the companionship their pets provided.


Owning a pet not only provides mental health benefits but also physical health benefits.


According to a study by the American Heart Association, regardless of the type of pet they have, people with pets exhibited lower blood pressure in stressful circumstances than those without one.


As many owners take walks and hikes with their pets, having a pet can lead to increased physical activity, which has been proven to improve mood, sleep, and fitness.


Having a pet can also serve as a social lubricant since pet owners tend to bond over the shared commonality of having a pet.


“I met so many great people while walking my dog. Interacting and socializing with others through having a pet definitely helped me to feel a sense of community,” says Lao.


However, being a pet owner has its challenges due to the costs and stresses associated with having one.


The APA poll also revealed that 71% of the participants worried about their pets dying, 66% worried about their pets’ health, and 56% of them had concerns about their pets’ care while traveling.


Despite these concerns, a large majority of the participants stated that the benefits they received from having a pet far outweighed the negative aspects of having one.

Yeonwoo(Anthony) Kim / Grade 11
Crean Lutheran High School