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Pets & Emotional Wellness

Wouldn’t it be a revolutionary breakthrough if we found a way to lower blood pressure, lessen the pain of depression, enhance our immune systems, decrease our feelings of loneliness, boost motivation, improve our sense of self, and promote our ability to trust! Well we do it comes from the benefits of pet ownership. Under most circumstances, having a pet is a healthy and healing experience.

Since ancient times pets have been a part of the human experience. Early contact between humans and dogs benefited both species. Dogs were fed scraps of food, bones, and other leftovers, until they developed a dependent relationship with humans. Then, in turn, the dogs served as watch-guards, warning humans of intruders approaching their encampments. Domestic cats have a history that dates back to the Egyptian times. The Egyptians began letting the Wildcats into their homes, where they allowed them to stay to protect food from rodents and they both eventually developed bonds. Today, an estimated 39%, or 50 million U.S. households have pets. In addition to the 120 million pet dogs and cats, people make pets of birds, fish, rabbits, hamsters, as well as a variety of exotic pets, including pigs and reptiles.

Pets are an important source of emotional attachment that can sometimes be stronger and more significant than the bonds formed between people. Any relationship, not just those between people, can become an attachment relationship if it fills our needs for safety and security. Pets provide a bond that is genuine and a source of consistent unconditional love and acceptance. Even supportive friends and family members find it difficult to provide the nonjudgmental validation and acceptance that a dog or cat can give to a person. As long as a pet is treated well, it will forgive us for our lapses in good behavior. The pet remains loyal, consistent, and shows unconditional approval. Pets demand little from us, yet they are a source of immediate and consistent feedback, a trait that is hard to find in today’s social world.

Pets perform an important role in families. They provide a common focus of attention for families that may lack much to communicate about. Taking care of a pet – walking the dog, feeding the pet, grooming and bathing the pet – are duties that can be shared by different members of the family. Thus, they tend to bring families closer together. Pets can also serve as lightning rods within the family. Pets may provide a diversion from the conflict or tension felt by family members, and unfortunately, they can become the target for misdirected anger meant for other members of the family. Likewise, they can become the focus for love which family members may have difficulty expressing toward each other. In many respects pets are important members of families.

There are many other benefits to pet ownership. Pets are the ideal social lubricant. Take your dog for a walk in a dog park and see how easy it is to start conversations. Your physical health can be improved as well by having your pet. Studies show that people with pets make fewer doctor visits and their mortality rate is one third that of people without pets. An important Australian study found that pet owners had lower blood pressure readings than those without pets and they also had lower levels of cholesterol.

Pets can be our most personal and trustworthy companions. They are always there for us. We can show nurturance and love to a pet when it may seem that there is nobody else out there to receive or understand our love. Pets enhance and enrich our social lives and give us unconditional love and acceptance which promotes a healthy attachment that supports our emotional well-being.

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J.M. Evosevich, Ph.D.

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