Find happiness with a pet

December 2012

Pets make good companions

Thinking about adding a furry or feathered member to your family? Pets can provide perks no matter what your age. Maybe that’s why 62% of households in the U.S. already have one.

It’s true the care and feeding of a dog, cat, or even a goldfish can cost money and time — two things families are always short on. But the unconditional love and boost to your well-being that a pet can bring may well be worth your investment.

Here’s how pets — especially cats and dogs — can improve your health and happiness:

A pet is good for your heart

High levels of cholesterol and triglycerides can up your risk of heart disease, but owning a cat or dog can lower both, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Owning a cat or dog can also increase your chances of surviving a heart attack.

Pets lower stress and depression

Stroking your cat or dog can lower your blood pressure and make you feel calmer. Even watching fish can ease tense muscles.

Playing with your pet increases the levels of the feel-good chemicals serotonin and dopamine in your brain. Maybe that’s why people recover from a stressful situation more quickly when they’re with their pets than with their partners or friends, a study done by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found.

Pets connect you to a community

Dogs, like babies, are conversation starters. On walks, you’re bound to stop for a chat or two with other dog owners.

Pets also give you the chance to meet like-minded owners at the vet, pet store, or training classes. There’s even a chance to connect online, where you can find forums and Facebook fan pages devoted to individual dog and cat breeds.

Pets get you moving

You can’t be a couch potato when you have a dog. Walking a dog regularly means you’re less likely to be obese and more likely to be physically active, the NIH has found.

The benefits continue to pay off as you age. One NIH-sponsored study followed 2,500 adults, 71 to 82 years old. The result: Those who took their dogs out regularly had more physical stamina — they walked faster and for longer periods of time and had more mobility inside the house.

Another plus: All that time outdoors increases your vitamin D levels and helps keep your bones strong. Not into dogs? Kitties need exercise, too, so grab a cat toy and have fun.

Pets a source of comfort

Pets can give you unconditional love and a well-being boost.

People may need people to live a richer life, but pets can provide many of the same perks, according to a study published by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Pet owners had greater self-esteem and were better able to bounce back from rejection, the study found. Other studies have found that a pet can be a child’s best buddy and help kids develop empathy.

Of course, not everyone is cut out to be pet owner. If you feel you can’t spare the time or funds, reap the rewards of pet ownership by fostering a rescued animal or by volunteering at a shelter.

You’ll be helping animals in need and finding a sense of purpose in the process — and that’s a win-win for everyone

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